Workers may soon get some much needed protection from heat illnesses and injuries, thanks to a new program from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
On April 12, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the program at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center in Philadelphia.
Under the program, OSHA will conduct heat-related workplace inspections in order to avoid heat related illnesses, injuries and deaths that are highly preventable.
The heat index measures how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored in with the actual air temperature. Based on a formula from the National Weather Service, the temperature could be in the upper 70s and the heat index could hit 80 degrees.
In the spring, summer and fall, temperatures climb well into the 80s throughout much of the U.S. States like Hawaii, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and others can experience 80 degree days throughout the year.
Between 2011 and 2019, 344 people died from work-related heat exposure, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 42 percent (144) of those deaths were workers in construction, repair or cleaning.
“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s,” Walsh said. “These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness – exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures – presents a growing hazard for millions of workers.
“This enforcement program is another step toward our goal of a federal heat standard. Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation,” Walsh added.
Under the program, OSHA will conduct inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings during heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
Whenever the heat index hits 80 degrees or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will conduct outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers cool and safe. The agency will also work with employers to develop ways to properly address heat-related illnesses and injuries in workplaces.
OSHA offices will also reach out to unions, employers in target industries and other organizations committed to advancing protections for underserved workers.
“Our goal is to make it safe for workers in hot indoor and outdoor environments, so that they can return home safe and healthy at the end of each day,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Working together, we can ensure workers know their rights and employers meet their obligations in order to protect workers from the growing dangers of extreme heat.”