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OSHA proposes first federal workplace protections for heat-related illnesses

The rules would affect 36 million workers and "substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace," the Biden administration said.
Posted at 9:11 AM, Jul 02, 2024

The White House announced on Tuesday that the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing new rules that would establish the federal government's first workplace standards addressing excessive heat.

President Joe Biden is expected to highlight the new rules while delivering a statement on extreme heat on Tuesday.

If the final rules are approved, it would require businesses to identify heat hazards, develop heat illness and emergency response plans, provide training to employees and supervisors, and implement work practice standards — including rest breaks, access to shade and water, and heat acclimatization for new employees, the White House said.

The Biden administration estimates that the new rules would affect nearly 36 million workers and "substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace."

Related story: Heat-related emergency room visits surged in 2023, CDC says

The rule will likely be challenged in court. Florida and Texas had previously prevented local governments from enforcing local workplace protections, saying such regulations are too burdensome for businesses.

According to government data, exposure to environmental heat has killed 999 U.S. workers from 1992–2021.

Although there are not specific standards addressing heat exposure in the workplace, OSHA has held employers liable when workers die due to heat-related illnesses.

Earlier this year, OSHA smacked McNeill Labor Management with a $27,655 fine after officials said the company could have prevented the death of a 26-year-old sugar cane worker by installing safety rules to protect workers from heat-related hazards. McNeill Labor Management contested the allegations.

OSHA also hit SJ&L General Contractor LLC with a $16,131 fine earlier this year after a 33-year-old concrete finisher collapsed at an Alabama job site in 2023 and died from a heat-related illness.