Senators Urged the Biden-Harris Administration to Protect Workers in High-Heat Environments as Climate Change Gives Rise to Record-Breaking Temperatures; Administration’s Plan Uses Language from Senators’ Bill to Protect Workers in High-Heat Environments as Climate Change Gives Rise to Record-Breaking Temperatures
WASHINGTON, DC – September 20, 2021 – Today, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are applauding the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to American workers with its newly coordinated, interagency effort to respond to extreme heat, which includes provisions based on the senators’ legislation to require the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) create workplace heat standards. Heat is a growing workplace hazard, with the climate crisis making extreme heat more frequent and severe. Workers in agriculture and construction are often at highest risk, but the problem affects all workers exposed to heat, including indoor workers without climate-controlled environments. Too often, heat-induced injuries and illnesses are misclassified or not reported, especially in sectors that employ vulnerable and undocumented workers.
“Protecting workers from heat stress is essential, particularly as global temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather conditions become more common,” said Senator Brown. “Every worker deserves a safe work environment, and I applaud the Biden-Harris administration for taking needed steps to create national standards and protections that will keep workers safe on the job as the risks of heat stress increase.”
“I’m grateful that the Biden Administration is beginning to implement the bill Senator Brown and I introduced to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths,” said Senator Padilla. “We must address the rising health risks of extreme heat in the workplace – particularly for low-income communities and communities of color who are bearing the brunt of this climate crisis. I’m proud to see the administration follow our call to take action and look forward to working with them to advance these whole-of-government solutions and create a uniform heat standard to provide workers the dignity and protection they deserve.”
“Rising temperatures and extreme heat threatens workers, especially workers of color,” said Senator Warren. “My Senate colleagues and I pushed for the federal government to set the very first workplace standards for heat safety and I am glad to see the Biden administration plans to take action. It is long overdue.”
The senators urged the Biden-Harris administration to take action in August to establish a federal heat stress standard to protect U.S. workers exposed to excessive heat based on their legislation. The senators’ Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act would require OSHA to establish an enforceable standard to protect workers in high-heat environments with measures like paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, limitations on time exposed to heat, and emergency response for workers with heat-related illness which the senators introduced in March.
The senators’ bill is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia who died in 2004 after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. Mr. Valdivia fell unconscious and instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told Mr. Valdivia’s son to drive his father home. On his way home, he died of heat stroke at the age of 53. Mr. Valdivia’s death was completely preventable, yet his story is not unique.
Recognizing the seriousness of increasingly hotter summers, the Biden Administration is taking immediate action on heat hazards to protect workers and communities as part of a broader commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience, and environmental justice. The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Agriculture; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are announcing a set of actions that will reduce heat-related illness, protect public health, and support the economy.
To better protect heat-exposed workers, OSHA is:
- Launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard: OSHA is announcing today the issuance of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. This is a significant step toward a federal heat standard to ensure more robust workplace protections across the country. The ANPRM will initiate a comment period allowing for OSHA to gather information, diverse perspectives and technical expertise on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring.
- Implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards: In parallel with beginning rulemaking on a heat-specific standard, OSHA will use existing tools to protect workers in potentially hazardous hot indoor and outdoor settings. OSHA will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F, which are designated as heat priority days. On these days, OSHA Area Directors will dedicate additional resources in responding to heat-related complaints and expand the scope of programmed and unprogrammed inspections to address heat-related hazards where evidence shows a potential for heat exposures. This initiative also will expand on OSHA’s campaign to educate and assist employers on heat illness prevention.
- Developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections: OSHA is also working to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries and better focus OSHA resources and staff time on heat inspections.
- Forming a heat work group to engage stakeholders and inform ongoing efforts: Within OSHA’s National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), OSHA is forming a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group to provide better understanding of challenges and best practices in protecting workers from heat hazards. This group will include three members of the full NACOSH—a public representative, labor representative, and management representative—as well as new members from a range of sectors and industries.