A bill has been introduced the US House of Representatives that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish federal standards to protect workers in high heat environments.
Last week, US Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act (H.R. 3668).
The measure would require employers give workers mandatory rest breaks, access to hydration and cool spaces, and formal training on responding to symptoms of heat illness. It also envisions limitations on how long workers can be exposed to conditions of extreme heat.
The bill is named after a California man who died in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 hours in 105°F (41°C) temperatures. Following his death, California became the first state to require paid shade and water breaks for people who work outside.
Chu said that without a federal standard for workers both indoors and out, millions of American workers were “susceptible to the same fate as Asuncion.”
“I’m confident that if we bring this bill to the floor for a vote, all workers will benefit from safe conditions whenever they work in excessive heat environments, no matter where they live.”
According to OSHA statistics, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 workers died from heat exposure. Consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen says this number is a “gross undercount”.
Meanwhile, over 130 organizations including Public Citizen have signed a petition to pressure the federal government to adopt a heat stress standard, while also raising awareness around climate change’s impacts on the health and safety of workers.
The petition states that global warming is causing more frequent days of extreme heat, and that record-breaking summers are now becoming the norm.
Indeed, 2017 was the second-hottest year on record in the US, surpassed only by 2016. In fact, 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001.
“Although this administration has turned its back on climate change and refuses to accept it, the reality is very much here,” Grijalva said.
Similarly, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said he was yet to hear of any action from the current administration to protect workers from the growing threat.
“As bad as things have been, they’re about to get dramatically worse as the climate crisis continues to worsen and spin out of control. We have to act.”