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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Workers may get some heat protection


Welcome to Winning Wednesday!


This week, in the midst of record-setting heat waves across America caused by climate change, the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which is part of the Department of Labor (DOL), proposed a new rule to address excessive heat in the workplace.


According to the AP, “if finalized, the measure would protect an estimated 36 million U.S. workers from injuries related to heat exposure on the job — establishing the first major federal safety standard of its kind. Those affected by excessive heat in the workplace include farmworkers, delivery and construction workers, landscapers and indoor workers in warehouses, factories and kitchens.”


High temperatures kill more Americans than any other weather-related problem.


What the rule would require


Employers would be required to identify heat hazards, develop emergency response plans related to heat illness, and provide training to employees and supervisors on the signs and symptoms of such illnesses. They would also have to establish rest breaks, and provide shade and water.  If they didn’t comply, they would face fines comparable to those for breaking other OSHA regulations.


Opposition to heat protections


You may have heard that Florida and Texas have both passed laws prohibiting cities from passing their own laws requiring heat protection.  A bigger scandal is the fact that forty-two states have no rules on heat protection, pro or con.  Only six states, including California, do offer some support to workers on heat.


The AP story notes that “Heat protection laws in the U.S. have faced steady industry opposition, including from chambers of commerce and other business associations. Many say a blanket mandate would be difficult to implement across such a wide range of industries.”


Next steps


It’s not clear when the rule would take effect.  There will be a period of public comment, usually a few months, and then no doubt some negotiations. 


The new rule would override state standards, and states with existing procedures to deal with heat would have to institute measures at least as stringent as the finalized federal rule.


Truthout has a story about workers organizing for their lives on this issue,  including Amazon drivers and warehouse workers, and restaurant workers. 


I did a story recently about the Fair Food Program, a collaboration between farmworker groups and businesses to voluntarily provide such protection, among other things.


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