Groups petition OSHA to issue heat stress standard

*Photo Credit – Photo: Public Citizen Beat the Heat campaign

Washington — 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.

“Workers, including farmworkers who endure difficult labor and long hours to put food on our tables, are vulnerable to dangerous working conditions,” said Chu, a former California State Assembly member. “I’ll never forget the stories of people like Asuncion Valdivia, who died after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. After Asuncion’s death, I fought to pass a new California law to require water, shade and rest periods for workers. Now it is time we extend this protection nationally. No job should be worth your life.”

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, Public Citizen states in a press release.

“There is no reason for workers to be denied basic protections against heat, including access to water, rest and shade,” Shanna Devine, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division, said in a statement issued July 17. “As demonstrated by the petition, labor, public health and environmental groups are united in addressing this occupational hazard. With rapidly rising temperatures, OSHA has a duty to implement a robust national heat stress standard without delay.”

Among the individual petitioners are former OSHA administrators David Michaels and Eula Bingham.

Learn More at Safety & Health Magazine.