How soon will workers be protected from heat risks?
Working in the open during the hottest days of the year in California is not a safe undertaking. Nor is working in spaces that aren’t properly ventilated and cooled when temperatures skyrocket. Nonetheless, many workers are exposed to serious heat-related dangers simply by showing up to work when it’s hot out.
Two years ago, President Biden instructed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to craft regulations to prevent employment-related illness and injury caused by heat. Yet, workers are still not benefitting from this effort. Why? Crafting these regulations requires 46 steps and OSHA is just getting started.
Until OSHA goes through the process of crafting and formalizing new heat-related employment standards, none protect workers on a federal level. As a result, workers who suffer harm under heat-related conditions will need to turn to state law and/or the workers’ compensation system (and related employment compensation schemes for mariners, railroad workers, etc.) for assistance in the wake of sustaining illness or injury.
When they are in place, they should provide workers with rights to breaks, drinking water and shaded or air-conditioned cool-down spaces once their working conditions reach a certain temperature. Unfortunately, it is possible that it could take as long as a decade for new standards to become mandatory and enforceable.
As trade organizations continue to paint such regulations as burdensome and some lawmakers fight this policy shift on principle, workers will continue to suffer. Although workers’ comp benefits are generally available when an employee suffers such harm, it would be ideal if protections were in place now to safeguard workers from this kind of suffering to begin with.