Extreme Heat Inspires New Regulations in the West

Heatwaves in the Pacific West have caused over a hundred deaths.


America’s west has suffered weeks of devastating heatwaves.

June 2021 was the hottest month on record with record-breaking temperatures recorded throughout the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures reached over 116 degrees in the region.

Additionally, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said “a little more than 47% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up from nearly 44% at the beginning of June. Drought intensified or expanded across portions of the West, northern and central Plains, Midwest, New England, and Hawaii.”

“The heatwave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense,” reports Fox News.

Areas of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah are projected to experience peak temperatures on July 19, after weeks of hot weather. Among the most threatened by the heat are those working in outdoor environments. They are at risk of developing sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, or heat stroke, which can cause death or permanent disability.

From US News & World Report: “In Oregon, advocates urged state officials to institute emergency rules to protect workers following a farmworker’s death after he completed a shift outside during the heatwave in late June. Gov. Kate Brown on July 6 directed the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to put emergency rules in place for employers, including requiring employers to provide shade, cool drinking water, and regular breaks for employees, among other regulations.”

Other states have similar rules in place. Washington requires employers to have an outdoor heat exposure plan and provide extra water on extremely hot days. Minnesota’s heat-stress standard requires employers to conduct training for workers who may be exposed to hot environments. Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill in June that enforces protection for workers when the outdoor temperature is over 80degrees.  California has a statewide occupational heat illness prevention standard and regulates training, water provisions, shade, and breaks for outdoor workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign in 2011. The organization says dozens of works die and thousands become ill due to extreme heat or humidity each year. Among the resources, it offers employers are heat illness educational and training materials in English and Spanish.

Policy changes regarding occupation heat safety standards have already been introduced on a federal level. A group of Senate Democrats introduced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act in March 2021. The act is named for Asunción Valdivia, an undocumented farmworker, who died in 2004 of heatstroke in California after picking grapes in 105 degrees heat for 10 hours.

According to the Congressional Research Service summary, the bill – identified as S.1068 – “requires the Department of Labor to promulgate an occupational safety or health standard on prevention of exposure to excessive heat. Excessive heat includes outdoor or indoor exposure to heat at levels that exceed the capacities of the body to maintain normal body functions and may cause heat-related injury, illness, or fatality. In addition, the bill establishes requirements concerning (1) training and education to prevent and respond to heat illness, and (2) whistle-blower protections.”

Among the bill’s eight cosponsors are Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

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