OSHA proposes new heat rule that would protect workers from rising temperatures

Each year farmers and construction workers across the U.S. die from heat exposure and thousand more are injured or fall sick from time spent working under the sun. And if laborers opt to stop working, take shade, and drink water, their bosses are legally allowed to penalize and even fire them.

This problem is more pronounced in states such as Florida and Texas where high temperatures on summer days often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Biden administration have released a proposed rule that would protect 35 million laborers from heat exposure, and the callous wrath of management. The protection would give indoor and outdoor workers the right defy their bosses, stop working, cool off, and drink water on hot days.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor, and Biden Administration are shepherding the new federal rule. Democrat Congressman Greg Casar—who represents Austin, Texas—has long championed the protection which was later applauded by the AFL-CIO.

construction workers building sidewalk
Construction workers in Nevada (Grand Canyon National Park/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

The rule proposed now awaits final approval from Congress. (Typically a new rule takes 7 years to pass. But OSHA expedited the rule because so many lives are at stake.) AFL-CIO representatives and Casar are now pressuring Congress to codify the new protections into law.

If approved, employers would be required to monitor heat levels and workers health. They’d be mandated by law to provide rest areas with water stations on days over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They would also need to establish heat safety plans and if they don’t comply they will be penalized by OSHA.

“For decades, workers have been organizing for federal protections from the extreme heat. Despite opposition from big corporations, these working families are finally winning the protections they deserve,” Congressman Casar said.

“Greg Abbott tried to take rest breaks away from everyday Texans,” Casar continued, “but now we’re one step closer to securing heat protections for all Americans on the job. Employers can adopt OSHA’s proposed rule and protect their workers today. For those workplaces who don’t, I will work with the Biden Administration to finalize this rule as soon as possible.”

Congressman Casar began fighting for the protection in 2010 when he was 21. That year, Casar staged a “thirst strike” on the steps of Austin City Hall with Texas labor unions.

The city of Austin approved rest and water break protections later that year. But then Texas Governor Greg Abbott eliminated those protections thirteen years later when Texas House Bill 2127 got passed in April 2023.

Congressman Casar drinking water cup
In 2023, Congressman Casar staged a thirst strike to put pressure on POTUS and Department of Labor to pass the heat rule. (Courtesy Congressman Greg Casar’s Office)

In 2022, Casar was elected to Congress to represent Texas’s 35th District. There, he continued to advocate for rest and water break protections but at the federal level. In July 2023, he staged another thirst strike outside the U.S Capitol.

Casar’s ideas were hard fought by Republicans, namely Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In April 2024, DeSantis—the Governor of one the country’s hottest states—banned local governments from requiring heat and water breaks for outdoor workers.

If the heat rule gets passed at the federal level, politicians like DeSantis and Abbott would be overrode.

Workers “who literally risk their lives working all day in blazing heat, and in some places don’t even have the right to take a water break. That’s outrageous,” Biden said recently.

OSHA assistant secretary Doug Parker added: “No worker should have to get sick or die because their employer refused to provide water, or breaks to recover from high heat, or failed to act after a worker showed signs of heat illness.”

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