The Public Demands Worker Heat Protections Now
Today more than 61,000 individuals called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish protections for workers who are exposed to extreme heat. The grassroots petition was organized by Public Citizen, United Farm Workers (UFW), UFW Foundation and Friends of the Earth.
The grassroots petition is part of a national heat protection campaign that includes labor, environmental and public health organizations and advocates. It aims to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on the health and safety of workers, as well as other vulnerable populations, while advancing standards to prevent injuries and deaths from outdoor and indoor heat in the workplace.
To mark the campaign launch in July, more than 130 organizations petitioned OSHA for a national heat protection standard. Workers, former OSHA officials and members of Congress supported that call for action. Today’s delivery of the grassroots petition demonstrates the deep public concern about the dangers caused by heat exposure and expresses citizens’ demands for fundamental workplace protections.
Already, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., and climate change is resulting in more frequent days of extreme heat. A Public Citizen report found that during the July 4, 2018, holiday week, an average of more than 2.2 million workers in the agriculture or construction industries worked in extreme heat each day. With record-breaking summer temperatures becoming the norm, outdoor and indoor workers across a wide variety of workplaces will be at greater risk for workplace heat illness.
A heat protection standard from OSHA should include such things as mandatory rest breaks, hydration and access to cool spaces (shaded or air-conditioned), and protection against retaliation. Because most employers won’t protect their workers voluntarily, we need national requirements to safeguard workers from extreme temperatures. Only California, Washington, Minnesota and the U.S. military have occupational heat standards. But, if OSHA created a national standard, all workers would be protected no matter what state they live in.
The grassroots petition delivered a clear message to OSHA
Heat stress can result in heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death. Climate change is rapidly increasing this hazard for U.S. workers, yet there are no national protections to prevent this growing occupational danger … It’s time to catch up and issue a federal standard that protects workers from heat stress.
Further, as our environment heats, more climate-related weather events like Hurricane Florence will take place. During the ongoing hurricane response and recovery efforts, OSHA and employers must protect disaster-relief workers from heat stress. The risk of serious heat illness is heightened when potable water is scarce and workers have limited access to fans and air conditioning due to power outages.
The public has spoken out– OSHA must prioritize worker heat protections. With rising temperatures, the time to act is now. You can help spread the word in your community about the need for a national OSHA standard to protect workers from heat by submitting a letter to the editor today!
More about the heat protection campaign can be found at www.citizen.org/heatstress.