As Record Heat Threatens Millions, Biden’s Proposal Seeks to Safeguard Workers’ Lives

July 5, 2024
2 mins read
Migrant workers weed a field of peppers on Rick and Robyn Purdum's farm. Fruitland, Idaho. Photo Credit : Kirsten Strough
Migrant workers weed a field of peppers on Rick and Robyn Purdum's farm. Fruitland, Idaho. Photo Credit : Kirsten Strough

President Joe Biden proposed on Tuesday, July 2nd, a new rule to protect about 36 million workers from health risks due to extreme heat, including thousands of Latinos and immigrants working in agriculture and construction. This measure, to be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor (DOL), represents the first federal safety standard aimed at preventing workplace deaths due to high temperatures. “Across the country, workers suffer heatstroke or even die just doing their jobs,” Biden said in a statement to the press at the White House. Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker reiterated similar sentiments. “Something must be done to protect them ,” he added.

The proposed rule will “substantially” reduce injuries, illnesses, and deaths from heat for agricultural workers, construction and infrastructure workers, postal workers, among others, explained the president, emphasizing that heat is the leading cause of climate-related deaths in the country. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), minorities, including Latinos, are more likely to have jobs with dangerous heat exposure. “Every worker should come home safe and healthy at the end of the day,” Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su stated while explaining the Biden-Harris administration’s latest steps.

The rule would require employers nationwide to develop a prevention plan to control heat risks in workplaces affected by excessive temperatures. National heat index thresholds will be established taking into account temperature and humidity, two factors that influence heatstroke. Depending on the heat index, employers would be required to provide drinking water, rest areas, mandatory rest periods, and monitor signs of heat-related illnesses, among other requirements.

DOL is also prioritizing scheduled inspections in agricultural industries that employ foreign workers with H-2A visas, considered vulnerable due to language barriers and less control over their working conditions. Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva encouraged the Administration to accelerate the proposal through the public comment process for swift adoption. “Every summer record breaking heat is taking hold over our country, and while we’ve failed as a nation to take decisive action to prevent climate change, we must not fail at protecting people from its impacts,” said the Arizona Democrat, who criticized climate change deniers.

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The proposal is part of a $1 billion package from the Biden Administration that includes programs to address natural disasters caused by climate change. These initiatives face opposition from business groups and Republicans, with the possibility that Donald Trump could prevent their implementation if re-elected in November. Anticipating this, Biden criticized his electoral rival today, saying that “unfortunately” Trump and leading Republicans in Congress “are trying to undo all the progress” made by programs like the ‘Investing in America’ presidential initiative, which provides funding through regulations such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Law.

The labour spokesperson has encouraged citizens to submit written comments once the rule is published in the Federal Register and the agency is also anticipating a public hearing soon after.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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