High temperatures can pose serious health risks, especially to workers who spend hours a day, day after day, working in hot conditions – both indoors and out. Heat stress, or heat exhaustion, can cause confusion, fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps and dehydration. It can also lead to heat stroke, a serious condition that can cause fainting, seizures, coma and organ failure if treatment isn’t administered right away.
In 1972, 1986, and 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set specific standards to protect workers from heat stress so that employers could be held accountable in such situations. OSHA, which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards, has never done so.
OSHA offers guidelines and supports NIOSH’s criteria for a recommended standard, but the administration has no enforceable rules that require companies to ensure their workers have water, shade, acclimation programs, or training to recognize signs of serious heat-related illnesses.
In July, watchdog group Public Citizen launched an Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers petition urging OSHA to “protect the millions of workers who labor in dangerous temperatures.”
Former OSHA director David Michaels told NPR that requiring employers follow a standard for protecting workers from heat-related illnesses, “is really one of the most feasible standards that OSHA could ever promulgate. Because it’s very simple, you don’t need any additional equipment other than shade and water.” Having standards would be one way to prevent injury because once serious injury or death occurs, it’s too late.