Record-breaking heat in the U.S. in 2021 endangered millions of workers exposed to heat illness and injury in both indoor and outdoor work environments. Workers in outdoor and indoor work settings without adequate climate-controlled environments are at risk of hazardous heat exposure, and workers of color are exposed disproportionately to hazardous levels of heat in essential jobs across these work settings.
The consequences of that extreme heat can be severe: a recent NPR/Columbia Journalism School investigation found that at least 384 workers have died from environmental heat exposure in the last decade. And the problem is getting worse: the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.
Many safety organizations and professionals this year called on OSHA to enact regulation for employers to combat heat illness and fatalities. A report published in August by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said outdoor workers in the United States could face four times as many days with hazardous heat by mid-century if action isn't taken to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Advance notice of rulemaking
Together with a Biden-Harris administration interagency effort, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings on Oct. 27, 2021. Currently, OSHA does not have a specific standard for hazardous heat conditions and this action begins the process to consider a heat-specific workplace rule.
“As we continue to see temperatures rise and records broken, our changing climate affects millions of America's workers who are exposed to tough and potentially dangerous heat,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “We know a disproportionate number of people of color perform this critical work and they, like all workers, deserve protections. We must act now to address the impacts of extreme heat and to prevent workers from suffering the agony of heat illness or death.”
Submit your comments to OSHA
The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking initiates a comment period to gather diverse perspectives and expertise on topics, such as heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring.
“While heat illness is largely preventable and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, and in some cases, heat exposure can be fatal,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings is an important part of our multi-pronged initiative to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat.”
Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards. To help address this threat, OSHA implemented a nationwide enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, is developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of challenges and identify, and share best practices to protect workers.
Read the Federal Register notice for submission instructions. Submit comments at www.regulations.gov, the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal and refer to Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009. All comments must be submitted by Dec. 27, 2021.