New York, NY — A coalition of seven state AGs led by New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a petition today to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking OSHA “to issue an emergency temporary standard for occupational heat exposure.” The AGs ask that a temporary standard be in place by May 1 of this year in order to protect workers this summer. The AGs urge OSHA to issue a standard that would apply once the heat index hits 80°F, given the effects of extreme heat on the health and safety of outdoor and indoor workers across the country. In their petition, the AGs explain that OSHA must also start a rulemaking for a permanent standard if it issues an emergency temporary standard.
As the climate crisis accelerates, extreme heat continues to affect and threaten workers’ safety. Like most environmental impacts, climate-related workplace dangers, including extreme heat, are not felt equally among workers. Outdoor jobs, and those jobs with high heat exposure and stress, are disproportionately held by workers of color and workers from communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities. Workers from these communities often face exacerbating circumstances, such as limited access to cooling centers and air conditioners, living in hotter areas of a city, and other health disparities.
“Strong federal standards are needed to protect workers from extreme heat,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law. “State attorneys general are asking OSHA to do the bare minimum and act now to address the dangers of the coming summer.”
Background — On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information on how to best prevent or reduce heat-related workplace injury and illnesses. In response, a coalition of six state AGs submitted comments urging OSHA to adopt federal heat standards and expand reporting requirements, with measures requiring employers to implement protective measures, such as developing heat alert plans, encouraging rest breaks for workers, providing potable water and shade areas, and monitoring temperatures. In support of their comments, the AGs pointed to simple measures that could be adopted to lessen the risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and chronic kidney disease. OSHA has previously released guidance on heat-related hazards in the workplace.
In the wake of extreme heat events in 2021, Washington and Oregon enacted emergency rules to increase workplace safety measures, in addition to passing their own regulations on heat standards. Minnesota also passed a safety rule around extreme temperatures, and California has had a workplace heat standard in place since 2005. More information about state action on extreme heat and other risks posed by climate change to workers is available in A Role for State Attorneys General in a Just Transition (please see pages 28-29).
The attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania joined AG James in today’s petition.
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.