These Are Your Rights At Work When It Is Dangerously Hot

Huffington Post

Several cities in the Northwest experienced record-breaking temperatures this week, causing dangerous working conditions for people trying to do their jobs during the sweltering heat wave. Lifeguards in Portland, Oregon, got sick from the heat, airline crews in Seattle needed rest breaks in “cool down” vans and Amazon workers in a Washington warehouse said temperatures reached 90 degrees indoors. Restaurant employees in at least three states walked off the job over hot conditions. The blazing sun and stifling heat don’t just irritate and exhaust people trying to do their jobs –- it can also be fatal. Excessive heat has been the leading weather-related killer in America for 30 years. Heat stress killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000 from 1992 through 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just this past Saturday, a farmworker in Oregon died while moving irrigation equipment on a day when temperatures reached 104 degrees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency tasked with protecting workers’ health, gives workers the right to refuse dangerous work if there’s a clear risk of death or serious physical harm. But if their employer fires them for it, workers have to win a retaliation case under the agency’s laws to be reinstated or win back wages. When it comes to heat, experts say those laws are behind the curve. Since 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued multiple reports recommending standards for occupational heat exposure. These recommendations include basic requirements such as employers having to produce a plan for gradually acclimating workers to the heat and giving workers access to water and rest breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned area. OSHA, however, has not followed these recommendations and adopted a specific heat standard. Instead, when deciding whether to issue citations for safety violations, the agency relies on a general duty clause that states employers must provide workplaces “free from recognized hazards.”