Monday was a day of celebration for the White House. It announced that it would develop a federal regulation that will force employers to ensure workers are safe. extreme heatThis is something that workplace safety advocates strive for since years.
The rule will be crafted by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and will apply to both indoor and outdoor workplaces, the White House said. Although the White House did not provide details about the requirements of the rule, it stated that the administration will begin the process to create the rule in October.
President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he was “mobilizing the administration to address extreme heat,” noting that heat waves brought record temperatures this summer to areas like the Pacific Northwest, where hundreds of people died
“Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities,” the president said.
OSHA’s federal heat standards would have many important implications. It would lay out in clear detail what an employer’s obligations are in protecting workers from high heat and give the agency stronger ground from which to issue fines. The minimum requirements would be set in all states, which most often have no heat occupational regulations.
David Michaels, who ran OSHA under former President Barack Obama, said the announcement could immediately make workers safer by changing employers’ expectations.
“Employers have a more clear understanding of what they need to do and what’s required of them,” he said of creating an OSHA rule. “But the fact that OSHA has said very clearly that they’re moving toward a heat standard also will have a significant impact. Employers realize when a standard is being planned and they start to respond even before the standard is issued.”
White House move was praised by labor organizations. Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the rule would provide “long-needed protections.” The union represents sanitation workers and other public employees who are exposed to the sun for long stretches.
“If we’re going to make sure that workers are safe on the job, we must institute a comprehensive standard that mandates breaks, ensures that workers have access to water and shade and implements monitoring procedures that identify dangerous situations,” Saunders said.
OSHA also launched a heat enforcement program. OSHA will conduct more workplace inspections for days where the heat index exceeds 80°. Such a program could result in fines if workers aren’t given adequate breaks, water or access to shade on especially hot days.
Without a specific heat rule in place yet, the agency will continue to rely on what’s known as the “general duty” clause, a catch-all requirement that says employers have a general responsibility to keep workers safe from harm. OSHA uses this clause less frequently, but employers can often fight such citations.
The new heat standard, once it’s issued, would give OSHA a much stronger tool to address heat hazards. Incorporating indoor workplaces into the rule will increase its effectiveness. This includes workers not only on construction sites and farms, but also inside restaurants, warehouses and other commercial buildings. anywhere else heat is a problem
OSHA reported that 43 people died from heat exposure during 2019, while 2,410 were injured or sickened by heat, although it acknowledged these numbers may be significantly undercounted. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement that high heat threatens millions of workers “both outdoors and indoors.”
“Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions,” Walsh said.
State heat standards are already in place. California established a set of regulations for outdoor workers after many farmworkers were killed on the job. Oregon has issued an emergency temporary standard in response to a severe heat wave earlier this summer. Plans are for it to be made permanent. Both in California and Oregon these standards are enforced rather than by the federal government.
Michaels stated that the OSHA federal standard was another sign the government is serious about climate change.
“This is clearly part of an all-government approach to attempting to limit the impact of climate change, while also reducing use of fossil fuels and accumulation of greenhouse gases,” he said.