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New rule proposed against excessive heat at work places in the US

Robert Besser
5 Jul 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Biden administration proposed a new rule on July 2 to combat excessive workplace heat, as heat advisories affect millions of Americans due to scorching temperatures.

The proposed rule aims to protect approximately 36 million U.S. workers from heat-related injuries, establishing the first major federal safety standard for such conditions. Workers affected include those in agriculture, delivery, construction, landscaping, and indoor environments like warehouses, factories, and kitchens.

President Joe Biden emphasized the urgency of this issue in a briefing at the DC Emergency Operations Center. He began the briefing by noting the potential damage risks this year: "What we're going to face this summer - it's going to be significant."

Despite growing awareness of heat-related health risks, protections for workers exposed to heat indices above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) have slowly materialised.

Under the proposed rule, employers must identify heat hazards, create emergency response plans, and train employees and supervisors on heat illness signs and symptoms. They would also be required to provide rest breaks, shade, water, and heat acclimatization for new workers. Penalties for heat-related violations would be significantly increased, aligning with current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules.

In 2023, an estimated 2,300 people in the U.S. died from heat-related illnesses. According to the Centres for Disease Control and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, workers exposed to extreme heat face severe health risks such as heatstroke and dangerous dehydration.

As July, the hottest month of the year begins, millions of Americans are at heightened risk of heat strokes, dehydration, and heat-related heart stress. The Labor Department has been working on a standard for workplace heat management since 2021, with OSHA conducting meetings last year to assess the impact on small businesses.

However, heat protection laws have faced opposition from industry groups, including chambers of commerce and business associations, who argue that a universal mandate would be challenging to implement across diverse industries. Currently, only California, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, and Washington have workplace standards for heat exposure. Some of these regulations have recently faced attacks from Republicans, with Florida and Texas passing legislation to prevent local governments from mandating heat protections for outdoor workers.

If the Biden administration's rule is finalized, it would supersede state measures, requiring states with existing heat regulations to meet or exceed the federal standard.

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