OSHA Petitioned to Protect Workers from Heat Stress

With temps expected to reach the upper 90s again in California this week, the National Weather Service is warning that oppressive temperatures and dangerous heat indices will linger for another day or two across the Southern Plains/Lower MS Valley, especially TX.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health issued a heat alert for Monday and Tuesday in the Pomona area and the Antelope, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. It will be in effect Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles.

More than 130 organizations and 90 individuals are petitioning OSHA to issue regulations aimed at protecting workers against heat stress.

The petition addressed to acting OSHA leader Loren Sweatt, is part of a national campaign led by advocacy groups Public Citizen, United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice.

The organizations are asking OSHA to mandate rest breaks, access to water, heat acclimatization plans, worker training, and shaded or air-conditioned areas for approximately 130 million affected workers. California, Minnesota, Washington and the U.S. military are the only entities with formal protections against occupational heat stress.

OSHA has issued informational resources on heat stress and can issue citations under its General Duty Clause. NIOSH published a Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments in February 2016.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said she plans to introduce related legislation in the near future.

In 2016, 39 heat-related deaths occurred (the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data available) – the most since 2011, when 61 workers died. The total also rose for the third consecutive year. Government statistics show that from 1992 to 2016, 783 deaths and 69,374 serious illnesses were linked to heat exposure.

In addition to the other requirements outlined by California’s heat illness prevention regulation, it is crucial that supervisors are effectively trained on emergency procedures in case a worker does get sick. This helps ensure sick employees receive treatment immediately and that the symptoms do not develop into a serious illness or death.

Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Online information on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the Water. Rest. Shade. campaign site.

A Heat Illness Prevention e-tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.