Proposed rule could protect 36 million workers from hazardous heat

By Shannon Kelleher

As dangerous heat waves sweep the US, the Biden administration this week announced a first-of-its-kind proposed rule that could help protect about 36 million workers from heat-related deaths and injuries.

If finalized, the safety standard, proposed July 2 by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), would require employers to develop plans to address workplace heat hazards and to put in place requirements for rest breaks and access to shade and drinking water.

The announcement came as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report on the impacts of climate change on health and the environment in the US, revealing that almost 1,000 workers died from heat exposure between 1992 and 2022, about one-third of which were construction workers. The report also found that the average number of heat waves increased from two per year in the 1960s to six per year in the 2010s and 2020s.

“Workers all over the country are passing out, suffering heat stroke and dying from heat exposure from just doing their jobs, and something must be done to protect them,” Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a press release. The proposal marks “an important next step in the process to receive public input to craft a ‘win-win’ final rule that protects workers while being practical and workable for employers,” said Parker.