Biden administration announces new rule to protect workers from heat-related illnesses

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


WASHINGTON – Senior Biden administration officials announced a proposed rule Tuesday to prevent heat-related illness in the workplace, as climate change brings hotter temperatures around the nation.

In a call to reporters Monday, officials spoke on background about the new rule, which the administration sent to the Federal Register Tuesday for review. Depending on the heat index, the rule would require employers to monitor workers’ heat exposure, provide cool-down areas and take mandatory cool-down breaks.

This new rule comes as extreme temperatures will engulf much of the country at some point during the year. Heat waves occur more frequently now compared to the 1960s, from an average of two per year to six in the 2020s, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Heat waves have also increased in duration and intensity.

Officials also pointed to record-breaking heat waves in June, high temperature predictions for the Fourth of July holiday and above-average predicted temperatures for July.

The rule would cover 35 million workers whose job responsibilities include being in the heat and require activities that could raise core body temperatures. This includes those working in construction, agriculture and landscaping, as well as those in indoor environments, like kitchen workers, who are exposed to heat indexes of 80 degrees or higher.

A notable aspect of the proposed rule includes acclimatization requirements. New or returning workers who are not used to the heat levels must be given a gradual increase in workload or a 15-minute rest break every two hours.

According to a senior administration official, 75% of workers who die on the job due to heat-related illnesses die in the first week. This rule would “significantly reduce the number of worker-related deaths, injuries and illnesses,” the official said.

Along with this new rule, the administration officials announced $1 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for 93 different communities and tribal nations. This includes $50 million to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for stormwater pumping to mitigate flooding and $6 million to Greensboro, North Carolina for an improved flood drainage channel.

Through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, the funding will go towards developing infrastructure that is more prepared to handle extreme weather events.

Officials pointed to increases in wildfires, hurricanes and flooding as growing concerns for Americans.

“In addition to posing direct threats to lives and livelihoods, major weather events have significant economic impacts,” said one official.

Another senior official from the administration spoke of how these announced actions are part of President Joe Biden’s larger commitment to strengthen the country against the growing threats of climate change.

“We are taking action, bold action, historic action and action that’s delivering real meaningful, visible difference on the ground,” the official said.

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