Heat-related injuries and fatalities are again a major concern for public health, as extreme temperatures have made an early appearance especially in the western and southern regions of the United States.
According to the CDC Heat and Health Tracker in an average year:
- Over 700 heat-related deaths occur
- 65,574 emergency room visits due to heat
- 8,992 people are hospitalized due to heat
There are also increased hospitalizations and deaths during extreme heat waves from cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney disorders.
Farm workers are 20 times more likely to experience heat exhaustion than other workers, but those working in manufacturing, construction, and driving/delivery services are also vulnerable. Climate change means farm workers labor through 21 unsafe work days a growing season, but by the end of the century this will increase to 62 days in unsafe conditions.
It is not just outdoor workers who are at risk, heat from indoor work environments can also cause heat-related illness. Workers in restaurants, warehouses, garment factories, and industrial laundries sometimes toil for long hours without access to clean, cold water, or adequate ventilation.
In March a bill was introduced into the House to require OSHA to create an enforceable standard to protect workers from heat. Our partner Worksafe and allies are working to encourage Cal/OSHA to pass a strong standard to protect all workers. Worksafe, like the Healthy Work Campaign believe that workers most impacted by heat hazards should have a say in determining the details of the new standard, since they know, first hand, what it is like to work in high heat environments. However, like the bill introduced into the House, the effort in California also faces stiff opposition from industry who believe regulations are “too complicated.” As climate change results in higher and higher temperatures, we believe it is imperative that all workers be protected by a federal heat stress standard, requiring employers to provide healthy work, including workplaces that accomodate and/or reduce exposure to high temperatures.