New York, NY — Today, a coalition of 11 state attorneys general (AGs) led by New York Attorney General Letitia James took three actions to seek heat protections for workers: a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for an emergency temporary heat standard to protect outdoor workers from heat exposure, a letter to Congress pressing for legislative action that would direct OSHA to develop a permanent heat standard, and a letter to the White House asking for support on both. The AGs’ message is clear that OSHA needs to protect outdoor workers — farmworkers and construction workers especially — before the next summer season begins.
The AGs explain that “all outdoor and many indoor workers” are at risk of heat-related illness during the summer and call attention to the impacts on farm and construction workers, who suffer compounded effects due to the nature of their work, as well as “prevailing socioeconomic factors, such as language barriers, limited access to healthcare, and wage structures that disincentivize breaks.” The AGs stress that the agency is mandated to announce an emergency heat standard under the Occupational Safety and Health Act if it finds that: “(1) workers are exposed to a grave danger in the workplace, and (2) an emergency standard is necessary to protect workers from such danger.” And they explain that an emergency temporary heat standard that goes into effect when temperatures reach 80°F and is applicable to farmworkers and construction workers would be a minimum step by OSHA to provide some protection for outdoor laborers.
“With each passing summer, workers across the country continue to suffer the potentially deadly results of extreme heat exposure,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Before the summer heat once again sets in, we must protect our most vulnerable workers against the dangers of extreme heat by implementing an emergency extreme heat standard and ultimately set a permanent standard for all workers. Every American has the right to a safe workplace, and I encourage OSHA, Congress, and the White House to join us in ensuring we protect the health and wellbeing of all workers.”
“State AGs continue to push for stronger protection from heat exposure for outdoor laborers,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law. “An emergency heat standard from OSHA would be a welcome next step in the wake of these ‘hottest on record’ summers that continue to affect farm and construction workers.”
Background — On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information on how best to prevent or reduce heat-related workplace injury and illnesses. In response, a coalition of six AGs submitted comments urging OSHA to adopt federal heat standards and expand reporting requirements, with measures requiring employers to implement protective steps, such as: developing heat alert plans, encouraging rest breaks for workers, providing potable water and shade areas, and monitoring temperatures.
On February 9, 2023, a coalition of seven AGs led by New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a petition to OSHA asking the agency “to issue an emergency temporary standard for occupational heat exposure.” The AGs asked that a temporary standard be in place by May 1, 2023, to apply once the heat index hits 80°F.
On April 17, 2023, OSHA denied the 2023 petition, stating that implementation of an emergency standard “would divert significant time and resources from developing a permanent standard and could very well result in no tangible results for workers.”
On July 27, 2023, the Biden administration announced the first-ever Hazard Alert for heat and asked the Department of Labor to “ramp up enforcement to protect workers from extreme heat.”
On August 22, 2023, OSHA reopened the comment period on the advance notice of proposed rulemaking, signaling that the agency is still considering what a proposed rule should look like.
For more background see the State Impact Center’s blog post, “Emergency Power in Focus: An Urgent Need to Address Deadly Workplace Heat Exposure,” which goes into detail about the dangers of extreme heat, the communities impacted, and government response.
The attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. joined AG James in today’s petition and letters to Congress and the White House.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center: The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan academic center at NYU School of Law. The Center is dedicated to working towards a healthy and safe environment, guided by inclusive and equitable principles. The Center studies and supports the work of state attorneys general (AGs) in defending, enforcing, and promoting strong laws and policies in the areas of climate, environmental justice, environmental protection, and clean energy.