U.S. House Labor and Education Committee Advances Heat Standard Legislation

The House Labor and Education Committee advanced a bill, by a 27-19 party-line vote, that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to finalize an interim heat stress standard within one year of enactment.

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2022 (H.R. 2193), named after a California farmworker who died of heat stroke in 2004, also would extend the statute of limitations for OSHA to issue a citation for a violation of the new standard from six months to four years.

Finally, the bill would create a private right of action for heat-related whistleblower complaints and require the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to “grant substantial deference to any reasonable interpretation by the Secretary of [the] Act or any standard, regulation, or order pursuant to [the] Act.”

A group of Democratic senators including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, but no Republicans have signed on to cosponsor. “We know too many workers still work in dangerous conditions, putting their health and safety on the line every day to provide for their families,” Sen. Brown said in a July 20 press conference.

OSHA initiated a rulemaking process to develop a federal heat standard in September 2021 and has been reviewing thousands of comments from stakeholders.

Earlier this year, OSHA launched its first-ever heat illness and injury National Emphasis Program (NEP) which includes grain handling facilities as high-risk industries. As part of the program, OSHA said it will proactively initiate inspections in more than 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for the local area. On days when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance, the agency stated.

Meanwhile, the White House reported on July 20 that as part of Biden’s executive action on climate, OSHA has inspected 564 workplaces for heat illness since April 2022.

As part of its heat illness prevention campaign, the administration announced last week the launch of Heat.gov, a website designed to provide maps, data and other information to help the public and local officials prepare for heat waves, understand the health risks and identify who is most vulnerable. The initiative is part of broader efforts by President Biden’s National Climate Task Force to address extreme heat and other impacts of climate change.

“President Biden has directed us to respond to the extreme heat gripping the nation,” Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, said in a statement. “Extreme heat is a silent killer, yet it affects more Americans than any other weather emergency — particularly our nation's most vulnerable.”

NGFA’s fourth annual Harvest Safety Week, beginning Aug. 22, will focus on OSHA’s heat illness and injury NEP.

Source: NGFA