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Biden administration to write rules on heat hazards in the workplace

WASHINGTON – Biden administration strives to combat health effects of heat, including first-ever heat-specific work standard, amid growing recognition of dangers posed by warming temperatures caused by climate change.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Ministry of Labor, will draft its first rule governing heat exposure designed to protect those working outdoors in agricultural, construction and other services. delivery workers as well as workers in warehouses, factories and kitchens.

It comes after a summer that saw record-breaking heat waves in the western United States and British Columbia, which scientists say have been made more extreme by climate change. Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related death in the country, according to the National Weather Service.

“Over the past few weeks, I have traveled across the country to see first-hand the devastating human and economic toll of extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change,” President Biden said in a statement. “Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to children in schools without air conditioning, to the elderly in nursing homes without cooling resources, and especially to underprivileged communities. My administration will not let Americans face this threat alone. “

The administration said it would form an interagency heat illness prevention task force to better understand the challenges and how best to protect workers from heat injury.

In addition to drafting the new rule, the Labor Ministry will prioritize heat-related interventions and work inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees, the administration said. The ministry is also already working to complete a program by next summer that will target industries most at risk for heat injury and focus more resources on inspections.

Separately, the Department of Health has already issued guidelines to enable the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which has historically been used to help people who cannot pay their heating bills in cold weather. extreme, to help cover the costs of home air conditioning and cooling centers during periods of extreme cold. Heat.

And the Environmental Protection Agency is using funds from an economic stimulus bill passed this year to provide technical assistance to establish neighborhood cooling centers in public schools.

OSHA’s new rule is one of the government’s first direct responses to an emerging area of ​​research showing that extreme heat harms and kills more workers and vulnerable populations.

A study published this summer found that heat contributes to far more workplace injuries than official records show, and those injuries are concentrated among the poorest workers. Hotter days not only mean more cases of heat stroke or exhaustion, but also injuries from falls, collisions with vehicles or improper handling of machines, as the heat makes it difficult to concentrate. , the researchers discovered. They attributed the heat to 20,000 more workplace injuries each year in California alone.

And after Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans this month, more people in the city died from heat exposure after the storm than were killed by flood waters.

A study published in May found that the growing risk of overlapping heat waves and power outages poses a serious threat to major US cities. Power outages have increased by more than 60% since 2015, as climate change has intensified heat waves, according to research from the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Using computer models to study three major US cities, the authors estimated that a combined blackout and a heat wave would expose at least two-thirds of the residents of those cities to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. .

And a study published last year found that rising temperatures were widening the racial achievement gap in American schools, new research suggests, offering the latest evidence that the burden of climate change disproportionately falls on people of color. . In an article published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, researchers found that students performed worse on standardized tests for each additional day of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more, even after controlling for other factors. These effects were maintained in 58 countries, suggesting a fundamental link between heat exposure and reduced learning.

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