Anticipating more dangerously hot summers ahead, the Biden administration on Monday proposed the first-ever workplace safety standards designed to protect workers from extreme heat.
The interagency initiative seeks to mitigate occupational heat exposure for outdoor workers, like those in the agriculture, construction and delivery industries, as well those who work indoors in hot places, including factories, warehouses and kitchens, according to a White House fact sheet.
In a statement outlining the plan, the White House noted that climate-related disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and floods produce dramatic images, but extreme heat is actually the nation’s leading weather-related killer.
The heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in June, for example, resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of emergency room visits. Millions of workers are exposed to severe heat in their workplaces, and Black and brown workers are disproportionately exposed, the White House proposal said.
Earlier this year, restaurant workers staged rallies in the West asking employers to repair faulty air-conditioning units, which created dangerous temperatures in restaurant kitchens.
Under the proposal, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will launch a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard to protect workers in both indoor and outdoor settings. A proposed rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register next month for public comment.
In the meantime, the agency contends it has tools in place to begin enforcement on protecting workers in dangerously hot settings, particularly when temperatures exceed 80 degrees.
OSHA plans to develop a National Emphasis Program on heat hazard cases for high-risk industries — scheduled to take place before next summer — that will likely build on an existing regional program for heat illnesses in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The proposal did not specify which industries might be targeted.
OSHA will also form a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group to better understand challenges and best practices for protecting workers from heat hazards.
The Biden administration is also working with various health agencies to collect better data on the impact of extreme heat events to better coordinate the federal response and better protect vulnerable communities. Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan also provides related funding to support heat-event response and forecasting.
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