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Congress Considers New Federal Rules Limiting Excessive Heat in Workplace

Exposure to heat and hot environments puts workers at risk for heat stress, and can lead to severe illness and death. (Adobe Stock)
Exposure to heat and hot environments puts workers at risk for heat stress, and can lead to severe illness and death. (Adobe Stock)
August 8, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – New rules being considered by Congress could help protect workers from dangerous heat.

Co-sponsored by North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set standards for preventing excessive heat in the workplace for both outdoor and indoor workers.

The legislation is named after a California farmworker who died of heat stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in heat up to 105 degrees.

Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air manager with Clean Air Carolina, says with climate change setting record-breaking temperatures, workers need protections.

"We were very alarmed, especially because North Carolina actually happens to be one of the top states for heat-related deaths across the nation,” she states. “Many people have seen outdoor workers, whether that's military, painters, housework, construction workers, but it can also happen to indoor workers that don't have access to air conditioning."

Currently, there are no federal heat-stress safety standards for workers.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Public Health Association, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and nearly 100 other organizations support the legislation.

Ben Skelton, owner of Skelton's Landscaping Service in Chapel Hill, says this summer he's had to get innovative to keep himself and his employees cool working all day in scorching temperatures.

"This year I have started using one of those pop-up tents that people use for tailgating or picnicking, and I can take it easily to job sites,” he relates. “And if we're doing work where we're sitting in one spot for a long time, those tents have saved us this summer. It just makes all the difference in the world to have shade."

Excessive heat can trigger heat stroke, which happens when a body no longer is able to control its own temperature.

People with certain medical conditions especially are at risk, says respiratory therapist Candace Cahoon.

"When you're looking at individuals with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, any respiratory illness, you're going to have a lot more issues breathing," she stresses.

Nearly 700 people die from extreme heat each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Disclosure: Clean Air Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC