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Without Protections, Excessive Workplace Heat Will Injure and Kill Thousands

Up to 2,000 U.S. workers die of heat stress each year and lost productivity costs the American economy nearly $100 billion annually, according to new report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Heat stress can kill up to 2,000 workers and cause an additional 170,000 injuries on job sites across the United States annually, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. The devastating impact of heat related injuries comes as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Congress continue to consider actions intended to prevent heat-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities in both indoor and outdoor workplaces. 

“The toll of unaddressed workplace heat stress on workers’ lives and well-being is immeasurable and unacceptable,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen. “Meaningful action by Congress or OSHA could prevent tens of thousands of heat-related injuries and illnesses each year.”

The report, which builds on Public Citizen’s long-standing campaign to protect workers from excessive heat, found that: 

  • The failure of employers to implement simple heat safety measures costs the U.S. economy nearly $100 billion every year.
  • The dangers of heat stress are overwhelmingly borne by low-income workers. The lowest-paid 20% of workers suffer five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%.
  • The workers impacted by heat stress illness and injury are disproportionately Black or Brown including significantly higher heat-related death rates.
  • At least 50,000 injuries and illnesses could be avoided in the U.S. each year with an effective OSHA heat standard.
  • Employers pay a substantial price for failing to mitigate workplace heat stress including the costs of absenteeism, turnover, and overtime due to worker illness or injury. Further, employer costs continue to mount due to reduced worker productivity in the heat, damage to machinery and property from workplace accidents, increased workers’ comp premiums, law suits, and loss of public trust and customers.
  • Congressional passage of the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, directing OSHA to issue an interim heat standard until a final standard can be completed, will save lives.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization released a report detailing how forecasts of a strong El Niño pattern combined with the impacts of the climate crisis will likely push temperatures soaring over the next five years. 

“For every 1º Celsius increase in temperature, workplace injuries rise by 1%, making heat stress prevention crucial,” said Fulcher. “Employers can take simple actions to protect their employees, but unfortunately many see it as a burden. By implementing a binding and comprehensive heat stress standard from OSHA, we can prevent countless illnesses, injuries and fatalities and create safer, more productive workplaces.”

Workplaces can adopt simple and affordable measures to mitigate heat stress for employees, including access to cool drinking water and adequate “cool down” breaks in shaded or air conditioned spaces. Further, new employees can be gradually acclimatized to working in the heat, and all managers and employees can receive training on how to avoid heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Read the full report from Public Citizen here

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