Federal agencies Heat stress Workplace exposures

Senate Democrats push DOL, OSHA for action on a heat stress standard

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Washington — A group of Senate Democrats is urging the Department of Labor and OSHA to move forward on a federal standard to protect workers exposed to excessive heat.

In a letter dated Aug. 3 and sent to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), along with 10 other senators, cite data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics linking exposure to excessive environmental heat to 815 deaths and nearly 70,000 serious injuries among U.S. workers between 1992 and 2017.

“With the increasing prevalence of extreme weather conditions, as well as employers who neglect to invest in their workplaces, the risk this danger poses for our workers, communities and the economy is at a pressure point,” the lawmakers write.

DOL included rulemaking on a potential heat illness prevention standard for outdoor and indoor work settings in its Spring 2021 regulatory agenda, released in June. That action is listed in the pre-rule stage.

In March, Brown and Padilla introduced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2021, which would add protections for farmworkers exposed to dangerous heat on the job.

In an Aug. 4 press release, the lawmakers highlight a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University showing that hot weather “significantly” increases the risk of injury on the job. Further, they contend that hazardous heat isn’t limited to outdoor workers, pointing to warehouses, laundries, steel mills, meatpacking plants and vehicles as potential sources of heat illness.

 

“The General Duty Clause that OSHA currently relies on does not sufficiently detect and stop heat-related illness for workers,” the letter states, adding that “climate change is compounding the problem.” The group points to recent record-breaking heat waves in the West and Pacific Northwest as examples.

Co-signing the letter were Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

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