White House: Initiatives to protect workers, communities from extreme hot conditions in the works

Posted at 11:47 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 10:12:37-04

IDAHO  — Record heat scorched the Pacific Northwest this summer as temperatures soared into the triple digits creating health risks for people who work outdoors.

On September 20th, 2021, the Biden Administration announced several agencies would take more action to protect workers and vulnerable communities from heat related-illnesses.

That includes the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which will be taking a big step to develop a federal heat standard to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hot temps. The proposal includes inspections when the heat index passes 80 degrees. OSHA will also launch a new program next year that will look more closely at heat hazard cases in high-risk industries.

"In many parts of Idaho, these temperatures are common for several months each year. OSHA actions may include additional outreach, as well as inspections and other interventions," said David Kearns, OSHA Boise Area Director in an emailed.

Kearns recommends downloading the free OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app to monitor the heat index and get reminders of how to stay safe during intense heat. The tool is available in Spanish as well.

In the Treasure Valley, some local groups have already sprung into action to help agricultural workers. In July 2021, the Idaho Immigrant Resource Alliance quickly mobilized to raise about $11,000 for its Heat and Smoke Relief for Farmworkers. The alliance also purchased and received donated waters and items to distribute to agricultural workers throughout the valley.

Their efforts caught the attention of the OSHA office in Boise and hosted a virtual forum on how people can take precautions while working outside outdoor during extreme heat conditions.

A long-time advocate for farmworkers says living and working conditions for these workers have improved in the past few decades, especially here in Idaho.

“I was involved with an association of farmworkers association nationally. We were able to pressure OSHA to be more active and inspecting some of the housing conditions and found a lot of sanitation problems in those living conditions, and slowly but surely most of them disappear,” said Humberto Fuentes, who serves as the president at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa.

Fuentes says heat has always been an issue for farmworkers but it's become an even bigger challenge in the past few years.

The Biden Administration said the new initiatives also aim to identify and addressed which communities may be inappropriately impacted by extremely hot conditions.

Fuentes expressed optimism about the new protections but says it will take time to see any results.

“Although the Biden administration is appointing people that are more sensitive to the issue, to the people who work out in the fields, in the open, outside work. To change some of the laws or procedures, it’s going to take a while.”

The initiative also includes ensuring households have access to air-conditioning and more cooling centers.

Click here to learn more about the other steps agencies plan to take to enhance workplace safety.