While the hot summer weather has given way to cooler fall temperatures, a new study says extreme heat is harming more workers across the United States than ever before. The UCLA-sponsored study concludes that heat causes far more workplace injuries than official records show.
While workers’ compensation insurance typically covers heat-related illnesses and injuries, few protective measures are put in place by employers. That has led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to draft its first rules regarding heat exposure in the workplace.
Guidelines expected for inclusion in OSHA rules
Researchers say hotter days not only mean more cases of heat stroke and heat exhaustion but increase the risk of other injuries as extreme temperatures make it harder for workers to focus. The federal rules are expected to mirror similar heat-related standards embraced by some industries, which include:
- Mandatory breaks for people who work in high temperatures
- Work stoppages when the heat index reaches a specific threshold
- Requirements for employers to provide water, shade and air-conditioning
- Access to medical attention for workers regularly exposed to heat
The OSHA rules will focus on the safety of outdoor workers in construction, agriculture and delivery services and indoor workers in kitchens, factories and warehouses.
Addressing the ‘big picture’
The OSHA announcement followed a summer when numerous heatwaves broke records across the Western United States and Canada. The National Weather Service states that extreme heat is the nation’s No. 1 weather-related killer.
The current administration says extreme weather caused by climate change has taken a devastating human and economic toll as rising temperatures threaten millions of Americans. Experts say excessive heat places millions of workers in imminent danger and hits disadvantaged communities in particular.