Biden-Harris administration proposes first-of-its-kind heat protections for workers

Biden-Harris administration proposes first-of-its-kind heat protections for workers

A worker uses a towel for protection from the sun while working in temperatures above 90F (32C) at a building construction site, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

By Casey Harrison

July 2, 2024

The proposal comes weeks after an intense heat wave enveloped much of the southwest, including Southern Nevada, where temperatures in June approached 110 degrees Fahrenheit

A new rule proposed by the Biden-Harris administration on Tuesday would require employers to protect workers from heat illness — a first-of-its-kind move if finalized that was celebrated by Nevada political leaders and labor groups. 

The rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could add protections for approximately 35 million workers nationwide, according to federal officials. OSHA officials have reportedly worked on crafting the new regulation for more than two years at the urging of public health and climate advocates. 

“The purpose of this rule is simple: It is to significantly reduce the number of work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses suffered by workers who are exposed to excessive heat and exposed to these risks while simply doing their jobs,” a Biden administration official said during a press call Tuesday. 

Under the proposed rule, OSHA would adopt two heat index thresholds that would factor in heat index and humidity. The first one, at 80 degrees, would instruct employers to provide drinking water and break areas for worker use as needed. At 90 degrees, more protections would be triggered, including calling for employers to monitor workers for signs of heat illness, as well as mandatory 15-minute breaks every two hours. 

“In Nevada, we know how dangerous working in the heat can be without adequate water and rest,” US Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a post to X, formerly Twitter. “That’s why I’m glad the Biden Admin is listening to our calls and taking action today with a new @USDOL rule that ensures employers are protecting their workers from extreme heat.” 

The proposal comes weeks after an intense heat wave enveloped much of the southwest, including Southern Nevada, where temperatures in June approached 110 degrees Fahrenheit. State lawmakers in Nevada in 2023 tried to pass legislation imposing worker restrictions during heat advisories — but that effort stalled after pushback from industry groups and, ultimately, because lawmakers failed to come to a consensus.

Labor groups by and large supported Tuesday’s news. In one post on X, the United Farm Workers union said it welcomed the creation of a federal heat safety standard. 

“This common-sense & life-saving rule proposed by @OSHA-DOL will, once effective, protect the health and lives of farmworkers who have no choice but to work during dangerous temps,” the union posted. “This federal rule has been a long-time priority for the farm worker movement and is the result of decades of advocacy by farm workers, often in the wake of immense tragedies including farm worker deaths.” 

The Washington Post reported statistics from the Bureau of Labor statistics, which found from 1992-2019, there were an average of 32 heat-related workplace deaths per year. There were 36 in 2021 and 43 in 2022. 

In a separate post to X, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers thanked the Biden-Harris administration for “stepping up and taking action,” while the United Steelworkers union lauded the decision: “Today’s proposed standard provides groundbreaking protections for workers exposed to extreme heat on the job. Thanks to the Biden administration and @OSHA_DOL for once again delivering for our workers.” 

  • Casey Harrison

    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

CATEGORIES: CLIMATE
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