BAC Advocates for Bill to Protect Workers from Heat Illness and Fatality
On July 20, BAC officers and members joined US Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in a press conference to advocate for workplace heat stress protections and call for a swift legislative action to speed up the implementation of the first federal heat stress, workplace standards.
Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards. Workers who do their jobs outside or in non-air conditioned locations, including most construction workers, work under extreme weather conditions are the most at-risk for heat-related illness. Every year, thousands become sick from occupational heat exposure, and too many cases are fatal.
US Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), who introduced the Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act in April 2021, called for a federal standard for protections against occupational exposure to excessive heat in both indoor and outdoor conditions. “California is the first state that adopted the heat standard for outdoor workers,” she said. “Data shows that the heat safety standard has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in heat-related injuries and illnesses. It suggests that a national standard would prevent more than 50,000 heat-related injuries and illnesses a year.”
BAC President Tim Driscoll’s speech amplified the responsibility of contractor partners in protecting our workers. “Construction workers make up six percent of the workforce in the United States, but account for one third of all heat-related occupational deaths in this country,” he said. “Our responsible contractor partners need to make sure members are provided necessary relief – from ice water to breaks in heat as needed, and other forms of protection. It’s our intention to work with the Biden Administration and our allies in Congress to pass this bill.”
Senator Alex Padilla’s remarks echoed the urgency of passing a federal standard for heat stress protections. “Our country has never passed a federal standard to protect workers from the increasingly hazardous conditions,” he said. “OSHA must act on this problem with the urgency that workers deserve. We simply can’t afford to wait.”
Yaneth Valencia, BAC Local 1 MD/VA/DC PCC member and employer of signatory contractor Lorton Stone, also spoke about her personal experience of working in the heat and underscored the important role that her employer plays in workplace safety. “Working in the sun with full PPE including respirators is very difficult. Our company provides ice and water during the warm months, and we are allowed to take breaks when necessary. Covered rest areas are also provided to us at the site,” she said. “Luckily, I have not fallen sick because of my union.”
The bill also establishes requirements for training and education to prevent and respond to heat-related illnesses and includes whistle-blower protections.