The US does not have a national heat standard for workers. Proponents say it could save the lives of farm, construction, kitchen and factory workers.

Imagine the sun scorching your back as a farm hand or construction worker in late summer, or as a warehouse or kitchen worker wrapped in scorching heat without access to air conditioning.

This is the reality for essential workers in the US. However, the country lacks specific federal regulation to protect workers in dangerous heat.

Such standards that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration started thinking last year could provide better access to water, rest and shade, making otherwise difficult work environments more tolerable – and safer.

While Juley Fulcher, a worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen, a progressive group, said she’s glad OSHA is conducting the rulemaking process, it could be years before OSHA actually finalizes a federal standard, and the process could dissipate if Republicans win the presidency in 2024.

Some workers argue that they need help now.

“It’s the same people who were out there during COVID while we were all huddled in our apartments — these are often the same people struggling with excessive heat,” Fulcher said. “Agricultural workers have the highest death rate from heat. Overall, construction workers have the most people dying from heat every year.”

“Agricultural workers have the highest death rate from heat. Overall, construction workers have the most people dying from heat each year.’

– Juley Fulcher, a worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen

Beyond the country’s farms and construction sites, workers in restaurants, commercial laundries, warehouses, delivery trucks and more face similar risks as American summers get hotter and hotter. Right now that The western United States is gripped by such a heat wave the country can count on it experience more often and more intensely amidst worsening climate change. temperatures on Sacramento reached 114 degrees on Monday, while the city of Livermore in the California Bay Area does likewise recorded penalty temperatures of 116 degrees.

(It should be noted that California has its own heat safety standard. Employers should “Provide outdoor workers with fresh water, access to shade at 80 degrees and, if a worker requests it, in addition to regular rest breaks, cool-down breaks, and maintain a written prevention plan with training.” on the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency,” read a statement from Cal/OSHA, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, issued last week.)

According to Public Citizen’s, environmental heat is already “probably responsible” for 170,000 work-related injuries and up to 2,000 worker deaths annually. Boiling Point report., which was written by Fulcher and published earlier this summer. Vulnerable workers, the report says, are disproportionately Hispanic/Latino or black.

“For example, while Latinx workers make up 17.6% of the total workforce, they make up 65% of farm workers, graders and graders, and harvest workers are 20 times more likely to die from heat stress than the rest of the U.S. workforce,” organizations wrote, including Public Citizen, in a letter to members of congress last year. “More than 46% of workers and freight, warehouse and material movers are Black and Hispanic/Latinx, as are more than 52% of laundry and dry cleaning workers, 52% of cooks and 58% of those who work in warehouses and storage .”

According to Public Citizen’s Boiling Point report, environmental heat is “probably responsible” for 170,000 work-related injuries and up to 2,000 worker deaths annually

In comments submitted to OSHA as part of the government’s rulemaking process, people described working on a restaurant patio in temperatures above 100 degrees and treated for heat exhaustion; Next two hot ovens, two grills and a stovetop with only one hood fan for air circulation; in a restaurant without air conditioning which once got so hot that the worker vomited and almost passed out; and as Hardscaper who repeatedly experienced “heat exhaustion up to hallucinations”.

Nonetheless, some trade, industry, and business groups have publicly expressed disapproval or skepticism about a federal standard. That American Farm Bureau Federationfor example, in a comment to OSHA, said that while “many farmers” recognize the importance of workplace safety, they are already “ensuring workers avoid heat stress by shifting their work hours to avoid the hottest hours of the day, and the Encourage employees to take needed breaks and provide shade and water.”

“Mitigating heat illness and exposure is not the sole responsibility of the employer, and OSHA’s approach should reflect that reality,” the American Farm Bureau Federation said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from MarketWatch, also noted that OSHA can protect workers from heat by enforcing its regulations general mandatory clause, This states that employers must generally provide a workplace where workers are free from “recognized hazards” that can cause death or physical harm.

However, Fulcher said that OSHA only occasionally cites under the general mandatory clause for heat-related issues, noting that this sets a “really high bar” for proving that there was a recognized hazard that resulted in death or harm or would probably lead .

An acclimatization plan that gives workers the time they need to adjust their bodies to the heat would also help prevent deaths from heat stress, as would training and access to water, rest, and a cool place would.

As OSHA progresses through its regulatory process, the agency could introduce an enforceable interim rule Rule to protect workers in the meantime, Fulcher said. This could include the creation of ‘heat stress thresholds’ or minimum temperatures at which employers must take action, as well as work pace and workload restrictions in hot weather.

An acclimation plan, or allowing workers the time it takes to adjust their bodies to the heat, would also help prevent heat stress deaths. Training on how to manage and prevent heat stress, as well as access to water, rest and a cool place are also essential.

“Most people who die from heat stress at a workplace are there in the first week of work,” Fulcher said. “Your body is not used to this. You essentially have to condition your body to work in this heat. So you have to gradually increase the heavy workload over a period of one to two weeks.”

In addition, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, led by Democratic MPs Judy Chu, Bobby Scott, Alma Adams and Raúl Grijalva in the house and Sens. Alex Padilla, Sherrod Brown and Catherine Cortez Masto in the Senatewould require both OSHA to set a federal standard for protecting workers in extreme heat and employers to provide training on risks and procedures.

Chu and Padilla promoted the law along with workers during a news conference last week, with Padilla noting that the proposal’s namesake died of heat stroke two decades ago while picking grapes on a too-hot day in California, the authorities said Los Angeles Times.

What workers can do now

With no federal standards, there are a few things workers can do to protect themselves from heat stress. information how to cool your body, identify risk and help others by establishing a buddy system is common, Fulcher said.

Workers can be affected by heat differently based on their individual health conditions. But it’s also important to be aware of what over-the-counter or recreational drugs can contribute to heat illness, and to avoid alcohol or energy drinks and drink plenty of water instead.

Otherwise, workers can talk to their bosses about some of the simpler things their workplace could do: provide access to more water, shade, and breaks to ensure they don’t get overheated and tired, which could ultimately hurt productivity.

Unions can also negotiate safe conditions, although many workers affected by heat stress, such as migrant farm workers, are usually not unionized‘ Fulcher said.

“There are things you can educate yourself on, ways to make your body more resilient and at least not make it more prone to heat sickness — regardless of what your boss is willing to do,” Fulcher said. The US does not have a national heat standard for workers. Proponents say it could save the lives of farm, construction, kitchen and factory workers.

Brian Lowry

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