Washington — An OSHA standard aimed at protecting workers from extreme heat exposure could prevent at least 50,000 injuries and illnesses annually, a watchdog group contends.
A recent report from Public Citizen also claims that workplace heat exposure or stress is linked to as many as 2,000 worker deaths and 170,000 injuries each year.
Other findings in the report:
- Heat stress-related tragedies “disproportionately strike” low-income workers and workers of color.
- Latino workers are three times more likely to suffer a heat-related death than non-Latino workers.
- Agricultural workers experience heat stress-related deaths at a rate 35 times higher than the rest of the workforce.
- Workplace injuries rise by 1% for every 1° C increase in temperature.
Public Citizen is calling on OSHA to develop a standard to protect indoor and outdoor workers from heat. The agency published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Oct. 27, 2021, Federal Register. The public comment period expired in early 2022.
In April of that year, OSHA introduced a National Emphasis Program on heat-related inspections. The NEP, set to remain in effect until April 2025, includes plans to conduct inspections in more than 70 “high-risk” industries when the heat index reaches 80° F or higher.
“Each year without an OSHA heat stress standard puts the health and lives of more workers on the line,” the report states. “The risk of workplace heat stress illness, injury and death is increasing with climate change, and predictions for extreme temperatures and increased heat waves in 2023 and 2024 make the need for a heat standard more urgent than ever.”
In a press release, Public Citizen worker health and safety advocate Juley Fulcher adds: “Employers can take simple actions to protect their employees, but unfortunately many see it as a burden. By implementing a binding and comprehensive heat stress standard from OSHA, we can prevent countless illnesses, injuries, and fatalities and create safer, more productive workplaces.”
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