Attorney General James leads coalition to demand federal heat standards for workers

As climate change drives higher temperatures, workers face growing
Risk of injury, illness and death from occupational heat exposure

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a six-state coalition, has urged the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take swift action to implement national standards to protect outdoor and indoor workers from occupational exposure to extreme heat. Despite rising temperatures and intensifying heat waves related to climate change, OSHA currently has no occupational heat standards in place. In comments submitted to a proposed worker heat standards rule, the coalition called on OSHA to close this significant gap in worker protections by requiring employers to implement strong preventative measures aimed at reduce heat-related risks.

“Workers across the country are on the front lines of the greatest crises unfolding today and must therefore deal with increasingly dangerous and often deadly working conditions,” said Attorney General James. “As extreme heat events become more severe and frequent, it is high time for OSHA to establish strict, enforceable national standards that address the serious consequences of escalating heat in the workplace. job. Every worker deserves a safe work environment, and my office will continue the fight to prioritize the health and well-being of New York workers. »

Exposure to extreme heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion and, with repeated exposure, chronic kidney disease. Extreme heat also aggravates pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and can even aggravate psychiatric conditions. As climate change drives higher temperatures and humidity, heat-related injuries, illnesses and deaths are expected to increase. Low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal and Indigenous communities are already disproportionately impacted by extreme heat, improved environmental justice, and issues of environmental racism in the workplace.

OSHA recognizes that its current efforts to address occupational heat exposure have proven insufficient to protect workers. A few states have taken measures to protect workers from heat exposure, demonstrating that these measures are feasible and effective. However, without national standards, millions of workers across the country remain vulnerable to hazardous workplace heat. In its comments, the coalition argues that as climate change progresses and heat-related injuries, illnesses and deaths become more common in the workplace, it is OSHA’s responsibility to establish national standards and requirements to protect all workers.

Specifically, the coalition urges OSHA to implement regulations to establish national occupational heat standards that incorporate such things as:

  • Heat exposure time limits for outdoor and indoor workers that account for more frequent and intense extreme heat events associated with climate change;
  • Obligation for employers to implement measures to prevent workers’ heat exposures from exceeding these time frames, such as acclimatization plans, mandatory hydration and rest breaks in shaded or cool areas, personal protective equipment, heat alert plans, worker training and monitoring;
  • Requirements for employers to maintain detailed records of heat-related illnesses and report all incidents of heat-related illnesses to OSHA, supplemented by more regular inspections of OSHA workplaces; and
  • Require employers to develop enhanced monitoring and exposure protocols for workers who may be particularly susceptible to heat-related injuries, and institute whistleblower protection programs for employees to safely report concerns about working in oppressive heat.

The coalition’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the total number of American workers employed in occupations vulnerable to extreme heat in 2021 was about 50.3 million. About 22.6 million – or 45% – of these workers were people of color and work primarily in agriculture, construction, warehousing and transportation, delivery and postal services, and Restoration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 1992 to 2016, exposure to excessive heat killed 783 American workers and seriously injured 69,374. However, OSHA acknowledges that the official number of injuries, illnesses and fatalities from occupational heat exposure is likely to be significantly underestimated, especially for gig economy workers (such as temporary workers) and for undocumented, migrant or low-income workers . -employees, who are often the most exposed to heat-related illnesses.

The attorneys general of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania joined Attorney General James in submitting comments.

“The need for regulations to protect workers from extreme heat is not debatable,” said Amy K. Liebman, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, Migrant Clinicians Network. “Agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable and 20 times more likely to die from heat exposure than other workers. For too long, these workers, deemed essential, have been excluded from vital protections. Voluntary guidelines left to the discretion of employers have not worked consistently. An OSHA standard is long overdue.

“Deliveristas across New York City are working day and night in extreme weather conditions – hurricane, storm, heat waves and snowstorms,” ​​said Hildalyn Colon Hernandez, Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Los Deliveristas Unidos. “Simple, their offices are the streets and the weather. They endure these extreme conditions to fulfill their duty to deliver food and goods to millions of people and support small businesses. Over the past few years, Deliveristas have witnessed how climate change has worsened these conditions every day. Los Deliveristas Unidos has joined our New York Attorney General Letitia James’ call to urge the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement national standards to protect workers. outdoor and indoor workers against occupational exposure to extreme heat.

This case is being handled for Attorney General James by Special Assistant Attorney General Ashley Gregor and Senior Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Counsel Michael J. Myers of the Environmental Protection Office, led by Office Manager Lemuel M. Srolovic. The case is also being handled by Assistant Attorney General Lawrence J. Reina and Civil Law Enforcement Section Chief Fiona Kaye of the Bureau of Labor, which is led by Bureau Chief Karen Cacace. The Environmental Protection Bureau and Labor Bureau are part of the Social Justice Division, which is headed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

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