August 03, 2021

Wyden Urges Labor Department to Establish Federal Heat Standard to Protect Workers

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today demanded the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) take action to establish a federal heat stress standard to protect workers exposed to excessive heat. 

“With the increasing prevalence of extreme weather conditions as well as employers who neglect to invest in their workplaces, the risk this danger poses for our workers, communities, and the economy is at a pressure point,” Wyden and 12 other senators wrote in a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “We request that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quickly develop and adopt a federal heat standard to protect workers, whether they are laboring in an outdoor setting or working inside an establishment.”

“In light of the danger of increasing heat waves and rising temperatures due to climate change, we request that you begin work on a permanent standard covering both outdoor and indoor workers, modeled after the provisions in S.1068, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatalities Prevention Act. This bill directs OSHA to establish an enforceable federal standard to ensure workers and employers can recognize and respond to the signs of heat stress. This bill is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia, a 53-year-old California farmworker who died in 2004 of heat stroke, after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in 105-degree temperatures. When Mr. Valdivia became unconscious, his employer told Mr. Valdivia’s son to drive his father home, instead of calling an ambulance. Mr. Valdivia’s death was completely preventable, and his story is not unique,” the lawmakers concluded.  

Wyden was joined on the letter, led by Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Earlier this year, Wyden joined Brown and Padilla on the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, to protect the health and safety of farmworkers facing dangerously high heat conditions year-round. Currently, the DOL has included rulemaking on Heat Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in its Spring 2021 regulatory agenda. According to a new UCLA study, researchers found that hot weather significantly increases the risk of workplace injuries, regardless of whether the work occurs outdoors or in an indoor setting.

“Amidst record-breaking temperatures, the importance of access to fresh water, shade, training and breaks become a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, without federal heat standards, thousands of farm workers are vulnerable to heat illness and death. Lack of immigration status prevents many farm workers from speaking up. Fear of deportation, fear of family separation can cause undocumented farm workers to have higher risk to occupational hazards because they fear speaking up about perilous working conditions. Status should not prevent people from speaking up for working conditions that could save their lives and that of others,” Diana Tellefson Torres, UFW Foundations Executive Director, said.

“Heat stress is killing American workers. The Biden administration must take immediate action to protect them. Our bodies can’t cool ourselves when we’re working in high temperatures. Heat waves this summer have taken a horrible toll on outdoor and indoor workers alike. It’s shameful that OSHA doesn’t have a federal workplace heat standard in place. We thank Senators Padilla and Brown for their leadership and advocacy with the Department of Labor to ensure these workers are protected. These are the essential workers who are providing critical functions like putting food on our tables, delivering our packages and keeping us sheltered. They deserve better,” Juley Fulcher, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen, said.

A copy of the letter is here.