By Andrea Izzotti shutterstock id 147037244

WH moves to protect workers from heat

Thousands of workers in the U.S. across many kinds of employment and industries are seriously injured each year as victims of on-the-job heat-related harm—with deaths in the double digits. 

Now, the White House, through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is moving to reduce the toll—putting in place a new program—which, when completed, will establish new standards—to protect against this growing problem, including safety measures for federal employees. 

“The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that from 2011 to 2019, environmental heat cases resulted in an average of 38 fatalities per year and an average of 2,700 cases with days away from work,” OSHA said in an announcement last month. “Heat-related illnesses range from heat cramps to heat stroke, which can lead to death.” 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) this week applauded the developing program. 

“For AFGE, this [move] means protecting members who work outdoors for the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management, and indoors, such as laundry workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and warehouse workers at the Department of Defense facilities, among others,” the union said.

The program proposes to order OSHA inspectors to prioritize investigating heat-related dangers and complaints, targeting high-risk heat injuries, and making additional, related enhancements. 

The first steps in developing the program starts with proposed rules, in process right now. 

In the years 2015 through 2020, the agency conducted about 200 heat infraction inspections each year—about 15 of them regarding heat-related fatalities, the agency said. 

“Many of these inspections resulted in OSHA citations ... ,” OSHA noted. “However, the total number of heat-related fatalities may be underreported.” 

For example, many deaths ultimately caused by heat are listed instead as “heart attacks” or some other event triggered by excessive heat, according to OSHA. 

“Due to climate change, extreme weather will likely continue, and the heat-related injuries will only get worse,” OSHA noted. “That’s why the Biden administration has launched a program to help prevent more deaths and injuries due to heat."

2021 Digital Almanac

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