The Communications Workers of America (CWA), Public Citizen and more than 130 other unions, and public health and allied organizations have submitted a petition (PDF) to OSHA demanding a standard to protect workers whose jobs expose them to extreme heat.

The groups say a heat protection standard should include mandatory rest breaks, hydration, and access to cool spaces (shaded or air-conditioned). California, Washington state, Minnesota and the U.S. military are the only jurisdictions that have heat protections for workers.

CWA Director of Occupational Safety and Health David LeGrande called a federal heat stress standard “long overdue.”

Climate change is increasing extreme heat

“Already, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., and climate change is resulting in more frequent days of extreme heat,” according to the CWA. “With record-breaking summers becoming the norm, outdoor and indoor workers across a wide variety of workplaces will be at greater risk for workplace heat illness.

“Approximately 130 million workers around the country lack any protection from a heat stress standard. According to the government, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 U.S. workers died from heat exposure. These numbers are generally agreed to be gross undercounts.”

Management did nothing when worker reported symptoms

CWA Local 6210 member Beau Easter, an AT&T Premises Technician in McKinney, Texas, acted last year to save a fellow CWA member’s life - just a week after he had participated in CWA safety training on heat illness prevention. 

Easter’s coworker was working alone in an attic and outdoors for several hours on a day with an average temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit when he began feeling hot and nauseous. He reported his symptoms to management, who did nothing. When his symptoms failed to abate – and management ignored another notification - Easter advised the man to seek water, rest, and shade. When he went to check on his coworker, he determined that emergency services were needed and called 911. Management never showed up to check on the tech and later advised the tech not to mention anything to the customer.

“The whole thing was handled incorrectly by the company official,” said Easter.

The CWA says the filing of the petition marks the launch of a national campaign to raise awareness around the effects of climate change on the health and safety of workers, as well as other vulnerable populations, while advancing standards to prevent injuries and deaths from outdoor and indoor heat stress.