Press Release

Six State Attorneys General Urge OSHA to Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

As climate change worsens, AGs call for federal heat standard and other workplace protections against heat-related hazards, especially for workers from low-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal and Indigenous communities.

New York, N.Y. — A coali­tion of six attor­neys gen­er­al led by New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James sent com­ments yes­ter­day to the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion (OSHA) call­ing for fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect work­ers from heat-relat­ed occu­pa­tion­al haz­ards. Extreme heat already pos­es a seri­ous threat to work­ers, espe­cial­ly in low-income com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and Trib­al and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, and heat waves are set to become more fre­quent and intense as the cli­mate cri­sis con­tin­ues. Author­i­ties (includ­ing OSHA) agree that heat-relat­ed deaths are sig­nif­i­cant­ly under­re­port­ed due to inad­e­quate report­ing require­ments and lack of pro­tec­tions for employ­ees who do report unsafe con­di­tions. The let­ter urges OSHA to adopt a fed­er­al heat stan­dard, which would cre­ate spe­cif­ic tem­per­a­ture thresh­olds at which dif­fer­ent lim­its on work are imposed, and pro­pos­es spe­cif­ic resources and met­rics for devel­op­ing the stan­dard. The AGs also urge the agency to expand report­ing require­ments, to increase its work­place inspec­tion pro­gram, and to require employ­ers to imple­ment mea­sures that pre­vent work­ers from over­heat­ing, such as manda­to­ry water breaks and increased tem­per­a­ture monitoring.

The com­ments break down spe­cif­ic heat-relat­ed occu­pa­tion­al haz­ards, which include imme­di­ate health risks from work­ing in extreme heat, such as heat stroke, and long-term effects of repeat­ed expo­sure to extreme heat, such as chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease. The AGs empha­size that low-income com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and Trib­al and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties are most vul­ner­a­ble to these haz­ards, due to con­verg­ing envi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health fac­tors, includ­ing: high­er like­li­hood of pre-exist­ing health con­di­tions, low­er access to air con­di­tion­ing at home, greater risk of occu­pa­tion­al haz­ards, high­er expo­sure to poor air qual­i­ty, and inequitable poli­cies that lead to prob­lems such as heat islands.

The com­ments also explain the reg­u­la­to­ry and leg­isla­tive steps that dif­fer­ent states and gov­ern­ment agen­cies have tak­en to pro­tect work­ers from extreme heat. The AGs argue that, though these mea­sures have made an impact and can guide the devel­op­ment of fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions, with­out nation­al heat stan­dards, mil­lions of out­door and indoor work­ers across the coun­try will remain vul­ner­a­ble to ill­ness and death from occu­pa­tion­al heat exposure.”

Attor­neys gen­er­al have played an impor­tant role in both respond­ing to the cli­mate cri­sis and pro­tect­ing work­ers’ rights,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter. With this com­ment let­ter, not only are these AGs urg­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pro­tect work­ers from this press­ing cli­mate threat, but they are also paving the way for future enforce­ment at this cru­cial inter­sec­tion of labor and cli­mate work.”

Work­ers through­out the coun­try are on the front­lines of the biggest crises hap­pen­ing today, and must face increas­ing­ly unsafe and often dead­ly work­ing con­di­tions as a result,” said Attor­ney Gen­er­al James in a state­ment. As extreme heat events only get more severe and more fre­quent, it is long past time for OSHA to set strict, enforce­able nation­al stan­dards that respond to the grave con­se­quences of esca­lat­ing heat in the work­place. Every work­er deserves a safe work envi­ron­ment, and my office will con­tin­ue the fight to pri­or­i­tize the health and well­be­ing of work­ing New York­ers.”

Back­ground — On Octo­ber 27, OSHA issued an advance notice of pro­posed rule­mak­ing seek­ing infor­ma­tion on how to best pre­vent or reduce heat-relat­ed work­place injury and ill­ness­es. OSHA has pre­vi­ous­ly released guid­ance on heat-relat­ed haz­ards in the work­place.

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Cal­i­for­nia, Mary­land, Mass­a­chu­setts, New Jer­sey, and Penn­syl­va­nia joined AG James in fil­ing yes­ter­day’s com­ments.


About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law is a non-par­ti­san aca­d­e­m­ic cen­ter ded­i­cat­ed to the study and sup­port of state attor­neys gen­er­al in their work defend­ing and pro­mot­ing clean ener­gy, cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal laws and policies.