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Remembering Workers Who Died or Suffered on the Job Begins With Safeguards From Heat Stress

Memo to Reporters, Columnists and Editorial Boards

Note: This press note has been updated to reflect Public Citizen’s Friday submission of a joint letter from safety advocates to the United States Department of Labor.

During Workers’ Memorial Week this week, Americans will remember those who have suffered or died on the job and renew the fight for safe workplaces. Public Citizen has joined with organizations across the country to remember fallen workers and fight for safer workplaces, including for employees exposed to heat-related conditions. We urge you to cover the immediate need for federal worker heat protections to be implemented nationwide.

Below, Public Citizen provides materials and research to journalists and the public regarding the fight to eliminate unnecessary risks that endanger American workers exposed to dangerous levels of heat at work. According to the AFL-CIO, nearly 5,200 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2017 alone, and millions more were injured or maimed. Heat stress killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000 workers from 1992 through 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Notwithstanding these alarming figures, many deaths – including heat-related fatalities – go underreported.

Advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, are mounting a campaign to pressure the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish protections for workers who are subject to extreme heat. In the summer of 2018, Public Citizen and a network of more than 130 labor, environment and public health organizations petitioned OSHA to issue a national heat stress standard. This petition marked the launch of a national campaign to win that standard and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and rising temperatures on the health and safety of outdoor and indoor workers.

Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., and climate change is resulting in more frequent and more intense days of extreme heat. Heat stress dramatically increases the risk for workers who labor in hot conditions, whether outdoors or in warehouses, kitchens or confined spaces. As record-breaking summer temperatures become the norm – 18 of the past 19 years have been the hottest on record – workers are at increased risk for heat illnesses.

Public Citizen has published a report showing that during the July 4, 2018, holiday week, an average of more than 2.2 million construction and farm workers labored in extreme heat each day. Another report by Public Citizen, Farmworker Association of Florida and an Emory University researcher showed that extreme heat in Florida put construction and farmworkers at risk of illness, injury and death in 2016.

Workplace safety and oversight hearings are a top priority for leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. In response to the growing heat risks to workers nationwide, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said she plans to introduce legislation this year to protect workers from heat. Public Citizen and its partners support the introduction of bicameral legislation to protect outdoor and indoor workers from heat this Congress.

During Workers’ Memorial Week, it’s important to remember those workers who have died on the job, and for OSHA and Congress to advance workplace protections to prevent future tragedies. In the absence of strong rights and enforcement, we endanger our workforce and make another generation of workers vulnerable to the harms of climate change.

On Friday, more than 100 state and national organizations submitted a joint letter to United States Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt. The letter calls for swift action from the Labor Department to enact protective policies to shield workers from the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace.

OSHA Rulemaking Petition for Heat Standard: https://bit.ly/2PASXvF
Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers: https://bit.ly/2NoqhFo
Unworkable: Dangerous Heat Puts Florida Workers at Risk: https://bit.ly/2yPdIOH
Department of Labor letter: https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/wmw_heat_protection_organiza…