Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S.. In recognition of the likelihood of increasing dangers from climate change, U.S. President Biden announced a coordinated, interagency effort on September 20, described in a White House Fact Sheet titled Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat. Regarding workers, the Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will launch a rulemaking process to develop a national workplace heat standard for both outdoor and indoor workers, including agricultural, construction, and delivery workers, as well as indoor workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens. This process, which is expected to take years, will allow for a “comment period” on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring. Along with setting the Heat Standard, OSHA will begin a new enforcement initiative which will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F. OSHA will also work to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries, hopefully before Summer 2022. Finally, OSHA will form a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group within its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which will include a public representative, a labour representative, and a management representative, along with others.
The initiative is summarized in “As climate change warms workplaces, Biden directs safety agency to draft heat rules for workers” (Washington Post, Sept. 20) and in “Extreme Heat Is Killing Workers, So the White House Is Adding Protections” (Vice Motherboard, Sept 23), which describes the regulation in Washington, California and Minnesota, as well as legislation currently under debate in Texas, which would eliminate requirements for 10-minute water breaks every four hours. A new national standard would set minimum levels under which state regulations could not descend.