Biden-Harris Administration Announces Proposed Rule to Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

July 08, 2024
The U.S. Department of Labor has released a proposed rule with the goal of protecting millions of workers from the significant health risks of extreme heat. If finalized, the proposed rule would help protect approximately 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work settings and substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.
Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. Excessive workplace heat can lead to heat stroke and even death. While heat hazards impact workers in many industries, workers of color have a higher likelihood of working in jobs with hazardous heat exposure.
“Every worker should come home safe and healthy at the end of the day, which is why the Biden-Harris administration is taking this significant step to protect workers from the dangers posed by extreme heat,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “As the most pro-worker administration in history, we are committed to ensuring that those doing difficult work in some of our economy’s most critical sectors are valued and kept safe in the workplace.”
The proposed rule would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to control heat hazards in workplaces affected by excessive heat. Among other things, the plan would require employers to evaluate heat risks and — when heat increases risks to workers — implement requirements for drinking water, rest breaks and control of indoor heat. It would also require a plan to protect new or returning workers unaccustomed to working in high heat conditions.
“Workers all over the country are passing out, suffering heat stroke and dying from heat exposure from just doing their jobs, and something must be done to protect them,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas L. Parker. “Today’s proposal is an important next step in the process to receive public input to craft a ‘win-win’ final rule that protects workers while being practical and workable for employers.”
Employers would also be required to provide training, have procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness, and take immediate action to help a worker experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat emergency.
The public is encouraged to submit written comments on the rule once it is published in the Federal Register. The agency also anticipates a public hearing after the close of the written comment period. More information will be available on submitting comments when the rule is published.
In the interim, OSHA continues to direct significant existing outreach and enforcement resources to educate employers and workers and hold businesses accountable for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1) and other applicable regulations. Record-breaking temperatures across the nation have increased the risks people face on-the-job, especially in summer months. Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more suffer illnesses related to hazardous heat exposure that, sadly, are most often preventable.
The agency continues to conduct heat-related inspections under its National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards, launched in 2022. The program inspects workplaces with the highest exposures to heat-related hazards proactively to prevent workers from suffering injury, illness or death needlessly. Since the launch, OSHA has conducted more than 5,000 federal heat-related inspections.
In addition, the agency is prioritizing programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers for seasonal labor. These workers face unique vulnerabilities, including potential language barriers, less control over their living and working conditions, and possible lack of acclimatization, and are at high risk of hazardous heat exposure.
Fatal Molten Metal Leak Could Have Been Prevented
A Hubbard industrial manufacturer failed to protect their employees from molten metal that was heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.S. Department of Labor determined after its investigation into how a 30-year-old employee suffered fatal injuries.
Investigators with OSHA learned the employee of Ellwood Engineered Castings Co. was working at the bottom of a pit below the casting operation and found the company did not have an effective process for containing and managing molten metal leaks.
OSHA also determined the company did not develop and implement an effective permit-required confined space program to ensure workers could  access and exit the mold pit safely, failed to train employees on the hazards in the pit and exposed workers to fall hazards up to 15 feet.
“A worker died needlessly because Ellwood Engineered Castings Co. failed to protect him and his colleagues from obvious and deadly hazards,” said OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland. “The company could have prevented this tragedy being responsible and by following well-known safety measures.”    
The agency has cited Ellwood Engineered Castings Co. for 11 serious violations and proposed $145,184 in penalties.
Part of the privately owned Ellwood Group, Ellwood Engineered Castings in Hubbard was founded in 1992 and produces gray iron castings weighing up to 160 tons and ductile iron castings up to 60 tons and operates three, 55-ton coreless induction furnaces. Its parent company owns more than 20 companies engaged in steelmaking, fabrication and other types of industrial manufacturing in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Canada and Mexico.
EPA Fines Two Oahu Nurseries over Federal Worker Protection Standard Violations
The EPA announced settlements of two cases involving agricultural worker protection, one with Olomana Orchids Inc., in Kaneohe, and one with Mari’s Gardens LLC, in Mililani. Both farms are located on the island of Oʻahu.
“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority for EPA. With our state partners, we’re focused on protecting agricultural workers and pesticide handlers,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “All farms, nurseries, and agricultural establishments must follow pesticide label instructions and ensure their workers are properly trained to safely use and apply pesticides and work in treated areas.”
“The EPA’s Worker Protection Standard helps to protect the health and safety of Hawai‘i’s agricultural workers and their families,” said Sharon Hurd, chairperson of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture. “All agricultural operations should make it a priority to ensure the proper use of pesticides and to require proper training for workers.”
Olomana Orchids will pay $2,505 for failing to ensure that two of its workers had been trained in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Mari’s Gardens will pay $1,173 for failing to provide complete decontamination supplies to its handlers in accordance with the WPS. The State of Hawaiʻi conducted the inspections at each nursery in 2021 and  afterwards referred both cases to the EPA in 2023 for resolution.
Farmworker Suffers Fatal Illness While Harvesting Oranges with Heat Index over 90
A federal workplace safety investigation found a Florida labor contractor could have prevented the fatal illness of a 41-year-old worker who collapsed while harvesting oranges at Alico Farms in December 2023 by taking required steps to protect employees from hazards associated with high temperatures.
Inspectors with OSHA learned the worker employed by Guerero Ag LLC had difficulty talking and appeared disoriented before becoming unresponsive and collapsing — symptoms consistent with a person suffering from heat stroke. Sadly, the worker died 3 days later in intensive care. OSHA determined the heat index reached approximately 92 degrees the day of the incident.
OSHA cited Guerrero Ag for two serious violations for exposing workers to hazards associated with high ambient heat, on three separate days, and not providing first-aid training to employees working in an area without an infirmary, clinic or hospital. The agency also cited the Arcadia-based labor contractor for failing to report a work-related hospitalization within 24 hours, and subsequently the fatality within 8 hours, as required by law. Guerero Ag LLC faces $30,651 in proposed penalties.
"Had Guerrero Ag developed and implemented an effective heat illness prevention plan, this worker's life could have been saved,"" explained OSHA Area Office Director Danelle Jindra in Tampa, Florida. "Employers must take action to protect employees from workplace hazards, including heat hazards both outdoors and indoors, to prevent another tragic and preventable death."
The company has 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
In September 2021, the department announced enhanced and expanded measures to protect workers from the hazards of extreme heat.
OSHA has developed a potential standard for workplaces to prevent heat illness and injury in work environments in general industry, construction, maritime and agriculture. The agency also took an important step in addressing the dangers of workplace heat and moved closer to publishing a proposed rule to reduce the significant health risks of heat exposure for U.S. workers in outdoor and indoor settings.
In April 2023, OSHA presented the draft rule's initial regulatory framework to the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. The committee unanimously recommended OSHA move forward swiftly on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The initial regulatory framework materials from the meeting are available in a docket on Updates on the rulemaking process will be provided on OSHA's heat rulemaking web page. OSHA concluded the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act process on Nov. 3, 2023. On June 11, 2024, the agency submitted its draft standard on heat injury and illness prevention to the Office of Management and Budget's Office of the Information and Regulatory Affairs for review.
Meanwhile, OSHA will continue to conduct heat-related inspections under the agency's National Emphasis Program – Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards, focusing enforcement on workplaces with the highest exposures to heat-related hazards proactively to prevent workers from needless suffering injury, illnesses, or death. Since the launch in 2022, OSHA has conducted nearly 5,000 federal heat-related inspections.
OSHA continues to direct significant existing outreach and enforcement resources to educate employers and workers and hold businesses accountable for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause and other applicable regulations.
"Federal law requires employers to protect workers from the dangers of heat exposure and should have a safety and health plan in place. At a minimum, employers should provide adequate cool water, rest breaks and shade or a cool rest area," added Jindra. "Employees who are new or returning to a high heat workplace should be allowed time to gradually get used to working in hot temperatures. Workers and managers should also be trained so they can identify and help prevent heat illness themselves."
In addition, OSHA will prioritize programmed inspections in agricultural industries that employ temporary, nonimmigrant H-2A workers for seasonal labor. These workers face unique vulnerabilities, including potential language barriers, less control over their living and working conditions, and possible lack of acclimatization, and are at high risk of hazardous heat exposure.
General Motors Agrees to Retire 50 Million Metric Tons of Greenhouse Gas Credits
The EPA announced that General Motors (GM) has agreed to retire approximately 50 million metric tons (megagrams) of greenhouse gas credits to resolve excess CO2 emissions identified through EPA’s light-duty vehicle in-use testing program. This agreement is the result of an EPA investigation that identified excess CO2 emissions from approximately 5.9 million 2012-2018 model year (MY) GM vehicles currently in use.
EPA light-duty vehicle standards are designed to ensure that vehicles on the road conform to the emissions performance asserted by manufacturers during EPA’s certification process. Automakers are required to test vehicles that have been on the road for one year and again at four years and submit those test results to EPA. EPA also conducts its own tests to ensure vehicles on the road are complying with emissions standards. Tests done by both EPA and GM showed the GM vehicles were emitting more than 10 percent higher CO2 on average than GM’s initial GHG compliance reports claimed.
“EPA’s vehicle standards depend on strong oversight in order to deliver public health benefits in the real world,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Our investigation has achieved accountability and upholds an important program that’s reducing air pollution and protecting communities across the country.”
This action involves approximately 4.6 million 2012-2018 full size pickups and SUVs and approximately 1.3 million 2012-2018 midsize SUVs. A list of affected vehicles is below.
The in-use program is an essential part of EPA’s work to ensure that the climate benefits of EPA’s vehicle standards are realized. That includes the recently finalized light duty vehicle standards that are expected to avoid more than 7 billion tons of carbon emissions and provide nearly $100 billion of annual net benefits. EPA remains vigilant in monitoring the performance of the vehicles on the road today to ensure automakers comply and the goals of the greenhouse gas programs are achieved.
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