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Labor adds heat rule as world temps rise

Heat wave season has grown by 46 days since the 1960s, EPA says

Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas, speaks during a vigil and "thirst strike" for workers’ rights on the House steps of the Capitol in 2023. The strike followed members of Congress pressing the Biden administration to implement an OSHA workplace heat standard.
Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas, speaks during a vigil and "thirst strike" for workers’ rights on the House steps of the Capitol in 2023. The strike followed members of Congress pressing the Biden administration to implement an OSHA workplace heat standard. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Biden administration on Tuesday proposed what it says is the first-ever rule to protect workers from extreme heat, as part of a suite of actions to address extreme weather effects stemming from climate change.

Senior administration officials said the rulemaking from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the Labor Department will focus on workers who are both working in heat and are engaged in activities that could raise their core body temperature, covering farmworkers, delivery drivers, construction trade professionals and others.

Employers will be required to develop procedures for preventing and responding to extreme heat, monitor workers when the heat index is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and meet certain training and record-keeping requirements.

The rules will apply to both indoor and outdoor workers, and additional requirements will kick in when the heat index reaches 90 degrees. The administration estimates that it will cover approximately 36 million workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that an average of 33,890 work-related heat injuries and illnesses involving days away from work occurred per year from 2011 to 2020, and that from 1992 to 2021 an average of 33 deaths per year were attributable to heat.

A report from a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel convened by OSHA suggested those figures were likely “vast underestimates” because of inconsistent record-keeping and a lack of recognition that heat was a cause or contributing factor.

The move comes as the U.S. continues to experience record-breaking heat. The first five months of 2024 have been the warmest ever recorded in the United States and the trend is expected to continue all summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last month.

Also on Tuesday, the EPA will release a report examining the impacts of climate change, which include a finding that the heat wave season is now 46 days longer than it was in the 1960s and that the average heat wave has increased from three to four days over the same time span.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will award $1 billion to 656 projects, generally categorized as hazard mitigation ventures, across the country to help officials address natural disasters and extreme weather, including heat waves, storms and flooding.

This funding provided through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law will go to projects such as bus stop shades in Washington, D.C., and a flood drainage channel in Goldsboro, N.C.

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