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AFSCME supports new Biden administration heat standard for workers

Photo credit: Coffeekai/Getty Images
AFSCME supports new Biden administration heat standard for workers
By Shafuq Naseem and Pablo Ros ·

AFSCME strongly supports a new heat standard proposed by the U.S. Labor Department this week that would protect millions of workers exposed to extreme heat.

As the global climate rapidly gets warmer, the new protections would help address the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. Between 2011 and 2022, there were at least 33,890 estimated work-related heat injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The proposed rule would create site-specific employer obligations to protect workers from extreme heat both indoors and outdoors. Among other things, it would require employers to develop prevention plans to control heat hazards in workplaces affected by excessive heat. The proposal would also require employers to provide training and create procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness.

The proposed rule wouldn’t take effect until after a public comment period followed by a public hearing.

“For AFSCME members — whether they’re paving roads, collecting garbage, driving students to school, directing traffic or maintaining safety in corrections facilities — these safeguards will provide much-needed relief on the job, helping them sustain the essential public services we rely on,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a press release. “What’s more, this will provide long-awaited peace of mind to their loved ones at home.”

Working in extreme heat puts workers at risk of adverse effects, such as illness and stroke. The impact of extreme heat is exacerbated by climate change as ambient temperatures continue to rise. Extreme heat disproportionately affects people of color who are more likely to be working in conditions with extreme heat exposure.

AFSCME has long supported protections for workers exposed to extreme heat. Last summer, AFSCME members joined an all-day vigil and thirst strike on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to call attention to the need for federal heat protections.  

The new standards would be implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency tasked with ensuring that workers across the country have safe and healthful working conditions.

The proposed rule wouldn’t apply to state and local government workers in the 23 states that have not opted into covering those workers under the federal health and safety law. But bipartisan, AFSCME-endorsed legislation would require those states to comply with all federal requirements.

Noting the importance of these two proposed reforms, Saunders said the new standard, “together with the recently introduced Public Service Worker Protection Act, would keep workers safe while reflecting the realities of working in 2024. More importantly, they will save lives.”

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