August 01, 2023

Merkley, Wyden Join Legislation to Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

Legislation Will Help Protect the Safety and Health of Workers Exposed to Dangerous Heat Conditions at the Workplace

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined their colleagues to introduce legislation to ensure the safety and health of workers in Oregon and across the nation who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia, who died in 2004 after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. Mr. Valdivia fell unconscious and, instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told Mr. Valdivia’s son to drive his father home. On his way home, he died of heat stroke at the age of 53.  

Mr. Valdivia’s death was completely preventable, yet his story is not unique. 

“Climate chaos is creating hotter, longer summers—putting many Oregon workers at risk for heat-related health issues at the workplace,” said Senator Merkley. “Extreme heat is deadly and dangerous, and this legislation will provide a critical safety net for working Americans.” 

“Extreme heat due to the climate crisis has proven to be deadly, which is why we must do everything in our power to protect workers who make their living outdoors,” Wyden said. “This bill would provide crucial protections against on-the-job, heat-related illness for workers in Oregon and nationwide. Congress must act with all due speed to pass these life-saving precautions.”

This legislation is led by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and, along with Merkley and Wyden, is cosponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Ed Markey (D-MA). U.S. Representative Judy Chu (D-CA-28) is leading companion legislation in the House of Representatives with Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-3) and Alma Adams (D-NC-12). 

Heat-related illnesses can cause heat cramps, organ damage, heat exhaustion, stroke, and even death. Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000. Climate chaos is making the problem worse. From 2011-2020, heat exposure killed at least 400 workers and caused nearly 34,000 injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work; both are likely vast underestimates. This year is on pace to be the hottest on record: the first week of July had the hottest days on record on Earth, following the hottest-ever month of June. Farmworkers and construction workers suffer the highest incidence of heat illness. And no matter what the weather is outside, workers in factories, commercial kitchens, and other workplaces, including ones where workers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), can face dangerously high heat conditions all year round. 

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act will protect workers against occupational exposure to excessive heat by:

·         Requiring OSHA to establish an enforceable standard to protect workers in high-heat environments with measures like paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, limitations on time exposed to heat, and emergency response for workers with heat-related illness; 

·         Requiring an interim final rule be in place within one year of the bill’s passage; and 

·         Directing employers to provide training for their employees on the risk factors that can lead to heat illness, and guidance on the proper procedures for responding to symptoms. 

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act has the support of a broad coalition of groups including: Rural Coalition, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE!, Communication Workers of America, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice, Public Citizen, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Steelworkers, and International Union, UAW. 

“It’s long past time for meaningful legislation to protect Teamsters and other workers from the effects of prolonged heat exposure and dangerous heat levels while at work,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien. “Paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, and limitations on time exposed to heat are simple common sense steps that should be mandated immediately. Waiting to implement these measures is unacceptable and will result in the further loss of lives.” 

“UNITE HERE represents members in numerous workplaces exposed to dangerous heat levels. Environmental injustices like oppressively hot temperatures harms communities already facing enough injustices — like areas where our Union’s working class, immigrant, Black and Brown members hail, including the deep south and southwest,” said Gwen Mills, Secretary Treasurer of UNITE HERE! “Whether it’s driving a catering truck in direct sun to stock departing planes with food and water or toiling in front of commercial appliances at maximum hotness in hotel kitchens, workers in both primarily outdoor and indoor spaces face record highs. The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act is the kind of federal intervention required for protecting ourselves from an increasingly more alarming climate crisis. We commend elected leaders for leading the charge and urge the swift passage of this critical bill.” 

“Blistering heat waves have blanketed large portions of the country for weeks, smashing unmerciful heat records. Extreme heat is a killer. Workers are braving the deadly conditions every day without proper protections. Some are losing their lives in an effort to provide us with food, shelter, water, electricity, air conditioning, safe roads and cars, and our every need delivered right to our doorstep.  Workers deserve basic efforts to save their lives, such as cold water to drink and rest breaks in a cool location. Guaranteeing these critical measures are put in place now is simple, obvious and absolutely essential. We thank Senators Brown, Padilla and Cortez Masto and Representatives Chu, Grijalva, Adams and Scott, as well as the dozens of Senators and Congresspersons who have joined them to cosponsor the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act of 2023,” said Juley Fulcher, Worker Health and Safety Advocate for Public Citizen. 

Bill text is available HERE