Biden administration proposes rule to protect workers from extreme heat

Biden administration proposes rule to protect workers from extreme heat
1 week 3 days 14 hours ago Saturday, July 06 2024 Jul 6, 2024 July 06, 2024 4:11 PM July 06, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Juan Pedro Muñoz, center, works in the heat while renovating the floor of a home in Austin on July 7, 2023. Credit: Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune

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Above-normal high temperatures in recent summers have been outright dangerous for construction workers, kitchen cooks and other Texas employees who may be at risk for hazardous heat exposure.

But some relief may be on the way after the Biden-Harris administration announced a proposed rule Tuesday that aims to protect millions of workers from the risks of extreme heat.

[How to stay safe in the Texas heat]

The rule would require employers to develop a plan to prevent heat injuries and illnesses in workplaces and make sure their employees can access drinking water, get rest breaks and control indoor heat. It would apply to all employers conducting indoor or outdoor work in construction, agriculture and other sectors where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has jurisdiction.

Before going into effect, OSHA must publish the proposal publicly and establish a period to collect public input.

“In many ways, this decades-long fight in Texas is helping expand workers’ rights nationwide,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Casar, D-Austin, who has advocated for a federal workplace heat standard and rest and water breaks in Texas.

Casar led a thirst strike at the U.S. Capitol a year ago to draw attention to the issue. Casar hopes the Biden administration’s proposed rule will be finalized by next summer.

The proposed federal requirements come a year after Texas legislators passed House Bill 2127, which barred cities and counties from passing local ordinances that go further than state law in several areas — from labor and finance to agriculture and natural resources.

HB 2127 eliminated ordinances in Austin and Dallas that established mandatory water breaks for construction workers. Supporters of the law said those kinds of ordinances bogged down businesses and created inconsistent standards across the state.

Climate change driven by humans burning fossil fuels is pushing temperatures higher in Texas. Last year was the hottest on record in the state. The state climatologist expects average temperatures and the number of triple-digit days will continue to rise.

Heat is deadly. It's known as a silent killer because its impacts are more nuanced than a tornado or a fire. But heat kills more people than any other type of weather, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At least 300 people died in Texas last year from the heat, more than in any other year on record. Most of the deaths happened in populous metro regions, like Houston and Dallas Fort-Worth, as well as in border regions.

“We know that temperatures will continue to go up. So these protections need to be in place,” said Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of policy and politics at the Texas AFL-CIO.

Emily Foxhall contributed to this story.

Just in: Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming; U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania; and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt will take the stage at The Texas Tribune Festival, Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Buy tickets today!

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/07/02/osha-extreme-heat-workers/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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