Action from OSHA Begins Process to Consider Heat-Specific Workplace Rule Based on Senators’ Bill; Senators Urged the Biden-Harris Administration to Protect Workers in High-Heat Environments as Climate Change Gives Rise to Record-Breaking Temperatures
WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced plans to begin implementing U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) plan to protect workers from heat hazards, publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings with provisions based on the senators’ legislation. Currently, OSHA does not have a specific standard for hazardous heat conditions and this action begins the process to consider a heat-specific workplace rule. The new rulemaking comes as part of the administration’s newly coordinated, interagency effort to respond to extreme heat.
Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards, 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. “All workers deserve a safe work environment – whether their jobs are indoors or outdoors – and I’m glad the Biden-Harris administration is taking the steps we called for to create national standards and protections to keep workers safe on the job.”
“I am pleased to see the Department of Labor begin the regulatory process to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths as required by the bill we introduced earlier this year,” said Senator Padilla. “Workers in California and across the country—particularly from low-income communities and communities of color bearing the brunt of the climate crisis—are too often exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. I applaud the Biden Administration for taking action to hold employers accountable and ensure workplace protections are put in place to prevent further heat-related illnesses and deaths.”
“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.