Industry petitions OSHA to establish heat standard
- More than 130 organizations, led by nonprofit Public Citizen, have asked OSHA to establish a heat protection standard for U.S. workers. Signatories to the petition include two former assistant secretaries of labor for OSHA, medical professionals, individuals and worker welfare groups.
- The petitioners request that employers be required to provide mandatory 15-minute to 45-minute rest breaks at certain heat thresholds, as well as access to shade and personal protective equipment like cooling vests and light-colored, breathable fabric. Other requested measures include access to water and electrolytes; a heat acclimatization plan; heat-exposure monitoring; medical monitoring for those exposed to heat above certain levels; signage warning of the dangers of heat stress; a written heat alert program; instructor-led worker training; record-keeping of heat-related injuries and deaths; and whistleblower protection for those reporting violations of the heat standard.
- According to the petition, a worker heat stress standard is necessary because global warming has caused more days of extreme heat, and each summer is producing record-breaking temperatures, with 85 "deadly heat" days projected for the southeast region by the year 2100. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from 1992 through 2016, 783 U.S. workers died from excessive heat, and more than 69,000 were injured by high temperatures.
Any group or individual has the right to petition OSHA for rule changes, additions or deletions. Like the Public Citizen petition, those requests are then reviewed. If OSHA determines that a requested standard is needed, then the rule development process begins. This involves soliciting input from advisory committees or agencies like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and investigating the impact on small businesses through consultation with the Small Business Administration.
Once OSHA has a written standard, the agency publishes it in the Federal Register as proposed rulemaking then as final rulemaking — accepting and reviewing public comments along the way. If OSHA determines that workers are in "grave danger," the agency can also establish emergency temporary standards until the development process runs its course.
Currently, OSHA relies on its General Duty Clause to help protect workers from excessive heat. That standard requires employers to make the workplace "free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." While there are no heat-specific standards, OSHA does offer guidelines on preventing workers from suffering heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses, as well as information on how to recognize heat-related illnesses in coworkers and how to administer proper first aid.
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