Workers in Oregon were affected by the soaring temperatures of the Pacific Northwest at 110° in June. flooded the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division with safety complaints. In Klamath Falls, roofers worked in blistering heat and thick smoke from nearby wildfires “with little to no shade and no breaks for a long period of time,” one complaint read. Clackamas worker reported that they installed fencing at a jobsite without having access to water, and had only 35 minute breaks in the course of the day.

Devastating heat waves that claimed the lives of many killed more than 100 peopleOregon offers an ominous glimpse into the future for outdoor laborers. Construction will be destroyed if there is no global push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. agriculturalA new warning is issued about extraction, delivery, and other outdoor sector issues. reportFrom the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This report was published Tuesday. Climate change will continue unchecked and the amount of heat that outdoor workers are subject to could triple by the middle of the century. The annual earnings of up to $55.4 trillion could be at stake. And it would come with dire inequities ― of the approximately 32 million outdoor workers in the United States, more than 40% are non-white.

U.S. workers are still suffering due to a lack of appropriate protections is nothing short of “cruel,” said Rachel Licker, the report’s lead author and a climate scientist at UCS.

“That’s often the tragedy with these injuries and deaths is that they’re typically preventable,” she said. “It’s about affording people, oftentimes, basic human rights — access to shade, drinking water, the ability to take a break when they’re on the job — so they’re not in a position of having to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

The report, titled “Too Hot to Work,” builds upon the nonprofit advocacy organization’s 2019 analysis on climate-fueled extreme heat. The organization combined county-level predictions of dangerous heat days and U.S. Census data to calculate the potential loss of workdays or wages under various warming scenarios. Southern states like Louisiana, Florida, Texas and California are expected to be the most affected, along with major agricultural producers such as California.

Infographic taken from Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Too hot to work.”
Union of Concerned Scientists

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendsAlthough employers can restrict or stop work outside when temperature exceeds certain extremes, those guidelines do not have to be enforced. New report calls for aggressive climate action and workplace safety regulations to safeguard workers against heat-related illnesses.

“We need, really, a kind of one-two punch on this issue,” Licker said. “On the one hand, we are taking aggressive action to ramp down heat-trapping emissions so that we can limit the increase in extreme heat days across the country, and the study shows that we can really prevent significant increases if we take action now. At the same time, we need to be enacting mandatory measures to protect workers at the federal and state level.”

UCS also published an article in conjunction with the report interactive mapping toolThis allows you to examine the effects of extreme heat in the future on outdoor laborers at county level.

It is not possible to establish a federal standard for protecting workers from heat outside or indoors. California, Washington and other states have temporary protections. After the devastating June heatwave in Oregon, Oregon made temporary provisions.

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, a bill that Democrats introduced in June and that’s named after a California farmworker who died of a heat stroke after picking grapes in 105-degree temperatures, would direct the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish and enforce a federal heat standard. UCS support the legislation.

This timely analysis follows a dire United Nations assessment that concluded human-caused climate change is currently affecting weather in “every region across the globe” and warned that past and future emissions have locked in changes that will prove “irreversible” over centuries to millennia. In the years ahead, heat waves will be just one of the impacts that will worsen over the next decades and decades.

Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official and current worker health and safety program director for the National Employment Law Project, said OSHA’s small size and inadequate funding, along with industry lobbying during Republican administrations, have prevented the agency from issuing more workforce health standards and better carrying out its mission. Berkowitz isn’t involved with the UCS report but said that the climate threat has made it more dangerous to do these jobs. OSHA must prioritize setting minimum requirements for companies during heat days.

“Of course, the majority of these workers are workers of color,” she said. “Their lives matter too.”

Dave Jamieson contributed this report.


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