According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every year heat causes at least 170,000 work-related injuries and as many as 2,000 fatalities. It’s one of the top five causes of workplace injuries and deaths, and the risk of heat is growing as climate change has been affecting weather in the US. 

A new report from Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization calling on OSHA to implement standards to reduce heat-related injuries and illnesses. The report’s authors say an immediate, short-term regulation known as an Emergency Temporary Standard could reduce those injuries by 30 percent.

 “Given the danger, OSHA must create an emergency safety rule to do its job of protecting workers,” said Dr. Juley Fulcher, Public Citizen’s health and safety advocate and the author of the report, in Mother Jones magazine.

Since 2011, Public Citizen and other advocacy groups have been pushing OSHA to create both temporary standards to address heat-related injuries and a permanent rule. Last year, OSHA began working on a new heat standard, but it could be years before the rule is implemented.

 “Rulemaking takes time, and it’s critical that we get it right,” Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, told Mother Jones. “We will continue to improve our efforts and explore opportunities to help employers and workers decrease the risk of heat exposure.”

Calls for change

According to the Public Citizen report, employers should be required to adopt a range of practices, including temperature thresholds, rest breaks, and hydration requirements. 

Between 2011 and 2020, OSHA and Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that heat was responsible for roughly 340 injuries and 40 deaths per year are likely “vast underestimates,” reports Public Citizen. The organization estimates that the true figures are closer to 170,000 injuries and 2000 deaths each year. 

For more information, read the report from Public Citizen here:

OSHA’s National Emphasis Program

In April 2022, OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries. Through the program, OSHA will conduct heat-related workplace inspections before workers suffer completely preventable injuries, illnesses or, even worse, fatalities. 

At the time, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh had said: “This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard. Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation.”

As part of the program, OSHA is proactively initiating inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80 F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job. Inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.

Last fall, published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to initiate the rulemaking process towards a federal heat standard and is committed to using all tools at its disposal to reduce heat hazards through a combination of enforcement, outreach and compliance assistance.