On September 20, 2021, President Joe Biden announced a plan to reduce the rising number of extreme heat-related injuries in the workplace. This government-wide strategy includes plans to implement new federal labor standards that would ensure protection for workers against rising temperatures.
These measures are going into effect after the National Weather Service released new data that ranks extreme heat as the most common cause of weather-related death in the country.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2019, there have been 43 heat-related fatalities in workplaces across the country.
The White House announced its plan to employ the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop these new safety standards. Employees who work outdoors are the most at risk of being injured by extreme temperatures.
The new measures will specifically target those who work in outdoor industries, such as:
- Delivery and transportation
Also covered in these standards are those who work indoors, but have limited access to air conditioning, such as:
- Commercial kitchens
While the White House notes that those working in agriculture and construction face the biggest danger from extreme heat, they’re not blind to other workers who also lack access to climate-controlled areas.
Together, the White House and the Department of Labor—along with 5 other federal departments—will release a standard for workplace heat exposure. Until this point, no such standard has existed. Advocates for workers have noted that extreme heat has posed a threat to workers for years.
According to the White House:
“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in their workplaces, and essential jobs with high exposure levels are disproportionately held by Black and Brown workers. Heat also poses higher risks in urban centers and to children, seniors, economically disadvantaged groups, and those with underlying health conditions.
Recognizing the seriousness of this threat, the Biden Administration is taking immediate action on heat hazards to protect workers and communities as part of a broader commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience, and environmental justice.”
When all is said and done, it is expected that the new workplace standards will include strict rules about the amount of breaks workers will need to take when working in high-heat conditions (or once the temperature hits a certain threshold), as well as rules on shade and water access. It’s also expected that failure to adhere to these standards could result in financial penalties.
Likewise, the Labor Department will ensure that heat-related interventions and workplace inspections will be prioritized on days experiencing heat indexes over 80 degrees. The target for the finalization of these standards is next summer, and they will likely be implemented for those industries that are at the highest risk before others. That said, passing such legislation will require time for extensive public comment and likely a legal process that could take years before the standards actually go into effect.
To pay for the resources needed to implement these heat standards, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to use resources from one of the economic stimulus bills that were passed this year.
Workers’ compensation for heat-related work injuries
For those who work outdoors where they are exposed to extreme temperatures and are injured as a result, Arizona workers are eligible for financial assistance through the state’s workers’ compensation system.
However, workers’ compensation laws indicate that employees have to be able to substantially prove a connection between their illness/injury and their work activities. Furthermore, the origin of their illness/injury must stem from a work-related risk. For example, a worker cannot say they’re having increased asthma symptoms due to their working conditions.
Likewise, in the instance of an occupational disease, the origin of this disease cannot be something other than a work-related activity. This means that the worker can’t have any other means of exposure to the hazard that caused the injury outside of work. Evidence will be required to show proof.
The 4 most common heat-related conditions
Much of Arizona has an arid and semi-arid desert climate; therefore, it can experience both extreme temperatures and weather. Summer months bring over 120 days of temperatures that exceed 100°F.
With so many opportunities for heat exposure, it’s no surprise that there are numerous illnesses you can experience. The four most common include:
- Heatstroke. Symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, an internal temperature that is dangerously high, a lack of sweat, a rapid pulse and slurred speech. Of the 4 types of heat illnesses, heatstroke is the most dangerous.
- Heat cramps. Heat cramps are caused by a sudden loss of salt in the body. Sweat has a very high concentration of salt. When we sweat, our bodies can become salt depleted. Our organs and muscles depend on salt to function properly and when our bodies lose too much too quickly, our muscles spasm. These spasms typically occur in the abdomen, arms and legs.
- Heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is caused by dehydration. For this reason, when you’re working in high-heat environments, it’s important to replenish the fluids you’re losing (in the form of sweat). You should do this as soon as possible or as you’re performing your activities. The best way to rehydrate yourself is with water. Heat exhaustion typically presents itself in the same ways as heatstroke; however, confusion and slurred speech aren’t always involved.
- Heat rash. As far as heat-related illnesses go, heat rash is the least severe. That said, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t dangerous. If you’re experiencing heat rash, you should take notice because it’s often a precursor to other, more dangerous heat-related illnesses. Heat rash typically presents as clusters of red blisters or pimples around the bends of your arms, groin, neck and/or upper chest.
The new federal safety standards will hopefully help curb the rise in heat-related injuries and deaths. But in the meantime, stay hydrated and contact a legal expert if you have questions about workers’ compensation for heat-related conditions in Arizona. It is beneficial to have an experienced attorney on your side to ensure that you receive the compensation you need.