OSHA is years away from issuing a federal heat standard that would protect workers. Advocates say it is dire now.


In the midst of a severe global heat wave, the US agency that sets workplace safety standards will likely be several years away from passing a federal law that protects workers from dangerously high temperatures, experts and a former agency official said.

Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official, said the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration began the process of creating such a regulation in October, but it has been bogged down by a lack of resources, strong industry opposition, and bureaucratic procedures that can stretch for decades.

“All of these put huge barriers to getting things done in a reasonable time frame,” said Barab, who was OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary of labor in the Obama administration.

The agency is in an early stage of the rule-making process, which could take anywhere from 15 months to 19 years The beginning to the end Its average is more than seven years, according to A Report by the US Government Accountability Office.

The report, published in 2012, cited procedural requirements, changing priorities and stringent standards of judicial review as the main obstacles.

“Making the rules takes time, and it’s critical that we get them right,” Occupational Safety and Health Assistant Secretary of Labor Doug Parker said in a statement.

But advocates say outdoor workers – many of whom are people of color – cannot wait as climate change causes extreme temperatures. more like.

“It’s clear that the climate is getting hotter, and workers are at increased risk. And it’s getting worse,” Barab said.

As temperatures topped 90 degrees in Pasadena, California last month, the 24-year-old UPS driver collapsed and died in his truck moments after delivering a package, his family said.

The county coroner has yet to say the cause of Esteban Chavez Jr.’s death, but his father blamed the heat and the demands of the job.

“These trucks are a hot box,” said Chávez Sr. KTLA. “They have all these guys running around, delivering packages and trying to meet their quotas and do their jobs.”

Recently, another UPS worker collapsed in the Arizona heat — Moment capturing On the homeowner’s doorbell video camera – but he survived. The unidentified worker can be seen lying on the floor, seconds after the package was dropped.

UPS did not immediately comment on Friday. Earlier this week, in response to an Arizona driver who collapsed, the company said its drivers were “trained for outdoor work and the effects of hot weather.” She also said that the air conditioning is “ineffective” in delivery trucks because they stop frequently.

Julie Fulcher, who works with Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that advocates for consumers and workers, said many other accidents go unreported such as work injuries and heat-related deaths.

From 2011 to 2019, rising temperatures killed an average of 38 workers annually, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said 43 workers died in 2019 alone from exposure to heat, and more than 2,400 others sustained serious injuries and illnesses.

But Fulcher said the numbers are likely to be much higher due to discrepancies in the reports. modern public citizen Report It found that exposure to heat is likely responsible for 170,000 work-related injuries and about 600 to 2,000 deaths each year.

The report said farm workers, most of whom are immigrants, are most vulnerable to heat-related injuries and illnesses, while construction workers are more likely to die.

Construction workers, who make up 6% of the total US workforce, accounted for 36% of all occupational heat-related deaths from 1992 to 2016, according to 2019. Report by the Center for Construction Research and Training, an organization that works with OSHA to address construction hazards.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 90% of landscapers and groundskeepers in 2020 were required to spend more than two-thirds of their working time outside, compared to 4% of all civilian workers.

“A lot of workers die in the heat, and it’s not recorded that way,” Fulcher said.

The sweat never stops

In Virginia, where temperatures are expected to drop to nearly 100 degrees this weekend, UPS driver Nick Jones is keeping a sweat towel, a Gatorade and some watermelon in his delivery truck to keep him cool.

Jones, 38, says that when he stops at red lights, he can see heat waves visible through the windshield.

“It hurts,” he said, adding that his truck is not air-conditioned. “Nowadays, I use the towel every time I stop because the heat is so intense. The sweat doesn’t stop.”

He said both heat and job requirements have intensified over the past 17 years Jones has been driving for UPS.

Packages increasingly grew to include sofas and wardrobes, which Jones sometimes had to carry several times from stairs in apartment complexes. “There is no limit to what anyone can order online,” he said.

He said the back of the truck was about 30 to 40 degrees hotter than the air outside. To escape from the sun momentarily, he said he entered nearby shops for 10 minutes before continuing his way.

“It’s a metal box. Everything is brown, and it attracts heat all day long,” he said.

Nick Jones, 38, of Virginia, has been a UPS driver for 17 years.
Nick Jones, 38, of Virginia, has been a UPS driver for 17 years.Courtesy Nick Jones

Workers and advocates are urging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to speed up the rule-making process. There are a few ways the agency can speed up the process. But OSHA, Shortage of staff and resourcesThey are not likely to do so out of legal caution and “bureaucratic inertia,” Barab said.

Last year, Public Citizen asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a temporary emergency standard, which the group said would hold the same strength as a standard permanent for at least six months.

The petition is still pending. But Barab said that this path is legally risky and tends to be undone by the courts.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing a proposed federal bill that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create measures such as paid breaks in cold places, access to water and restrictions on when workers are exposed to heat.

The legislation is named after Asuncion Valdivia, a California farm worker who died in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in temperatures as high as 105 degrees, said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California.

This is not a far-fetched threat. “We live it now, and we live it more every day,” he said at a press conference this week. “We can’t wait.”

“We can’t wait.”

US Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.)

In a statement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it was reviewing Public Citizen’s report and had received thousands of comments that “will help guide our work in developing a comprehensive final base based on the latest science and data available.”

“We will continue to improve our efforts and explore opportunities to help employers and workers reduce the risk of heat exposure,” said Parker, assistant secretary to the agency.

Workers are currently protected by OSHA’s “General Duty Clause,” which Requires Employers to keep workplaces “free from recognized hazards,” including heat.

A specific federal standard will dramatically increase employer compliance, said Chris Caine, executive director of the Center for Building Research and Training.

“It takes this issue to a much higher level,” she said. “And they, in turn, establish controls to a much greater extent than they do when they are simply threatened with violation of a clause of public duty or through education efforts.”

“When it’s actually done, that’s when we really see a change,” Cain said.

Large swaths of the United States are under warnings of excessive heat
An employee of Please Purify Water Solutions works in the reflective pool at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Public Citizen said at least 50,000 heat-related injuries and illnesses could be prevented nationwide if OSHA implemented a heat standard, citing the success of a statewide heat safety standard in California.

If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not finalize a federal heat rule by 2024, supporters fear it will be brought down entirely if the Republican Party wins the presidency. Under the Trump administration, the number of OSHA inspectors has decreased Recruitment stopped.

“If we get my Republican in office, most likely, he will be stopped in his tracks,” Fulcher said.

Barab warned that the issue is more serious than the statistics indicate. He said that chronic exposure to heat can severely affect the kidneys and brain, and many cases are not returned to work, especially when a worker does not collapse while working.

“The effects of heat are much bigger and much broader than just people dying from heat stroke at work,” he said. “We’re looking at a much bigger problem than we fully realize.”

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