US President Joe Biden has unveiled a series of measures aimed at safeguarding workers from the adverse impacts of extreme heat as scorching temperatures grip the United States. The White House has declared that heat safety violation inspections will be intensified in key industries like construction and agriculture. To enhance awareness and protection for workers, a “Hazard Alert” system will be implemented, informing employers about necessary measures to keep workers cool while ensuring workers are informed about their rights.
During a news conference, President Biden emphasized the undeniable effects of climate change, highlighting the alarming occurrences of historic floods, droughts, hurricanes, and devastating wildfires across the nation. He drew attention to the fact that over 100 million Americans are now affected by record-breaking temperatures, with heat being identified as the leading weather-related cause of fatalities.
Despite these newly announced measures, the US lacks a federal heat standard that mandates employers to adopt safety measures for workers exposed to certain temperatures. Protections for workers, such as mandatory breaks, access to shade, and cool water, vary by state and are often inadequate.
Efforts to enhance regulations face opposition from powerful business interests, particularly in sectors like agriculture, which have rejected calls for stricter rules and enforcement. Additionally, some states, like Texas, have taken counterproductive steps, banning municipalities from requiring employers to provide shade and water to workers.
Worker safety advocates have stressed the significance of implementing such standards, emphasizing that the lack of robust enforcement can have life-or-death consequences for workers. Even in states with existing protections, enforcement efforts are often insufficient, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation and unsafe working conditions.
In response to the urgency of the situation, over 100 members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to swiftly implement the new heat standard for outdoor workers. As extreme weather events, including heatwaves, become more frequent and dangerous due to climate change, immediate action is necessary to prevent further deaths and protect workers.
The National Weather Service reports that nearly 40 percent of the US population is currently under heat advisories. Cities like Phoenix, Arizona, have experienced consecutive days of scorching temperatures, breaking long-standing records.
The Biden administration’s measures also include investments in weather forecasting capabilities and funding for water storage and climate resilience projects in Western states like Colorado, California, and Washington.
Furthermore, the US Forest Service will grant $1 billion to support tree-planting initiatives in towns and cities to counteract the effects of heat. These efforts represent critical steps in addressing the growing threat posed by extreme heat and its impact on workers and communities across the United States.