Lawmakers Introduce Bill Pushing OSHA to Protect Workers Against Heat Stress

The measure would require employers to give workers paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water and training on how to respond to symptoms of heat illness.

A new bill in the House of Representatives would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish federal standards to protect workers in high heat environments.

Introduced by Reps. Judy Chu (D-California) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) Wednesday, the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act would mandate that employers provide workers with paid breaks in cool spaces and access to water. The bill also envisions limitations on how long workers can be exposed to heat and training for employees on the risk factors of heat illness and proper procedures for responding to symptoms.

The bill is named for a man who died in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures in California. Following Valdivia’s death at age 53, Chu oversaw the passage of a bill in the California legislature that made it the first state to require paid shade and water breaks for people who work outside.

“Still, there’s no similar federal standard for workers indoors or out, and that leaves millions susceptible to the same fate as Asuncion,” Chu said in a press conference outside the Capitol last Wednesday. “I’m confident that if we bring this bill to the floor for a vote, all workers will benefit from safe conditions whenever they work in excessive heat environments, no matter where they live.”

Heat stress killed 783 workers and caused serious injuries to 69,374 others between 1992 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Grijalva criticized OSHA and the Department of Labor for not taking action on the issue, particularly in the face of rising temperatures due to climate change.

“Although this administration has turned its back on climate change and refuses to accept it … the reality is very much here,” Grijalva said.

The bill already received a hearing from the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee on Thursday. OSHA has not issued a statement on the legislation, though it was at the center of criticism levied by advocates on Wednesday.

Robert Weissman, president of consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said that he and over 130 other groups petitioned the Trump administration to adopt a heat stress standard but heard “radio silence” in return.

“As bad as things have been, they’re about to get dramatically worse as the climate crisis continues to worsen and spin out of control,” Weissman said during the press conference. “We have to act.”

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  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - March 2021

    March 2021

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