US President Joe Biden unveiled a proposed rule on Tuesday aimed at addressing workplace heat exposure, as millions in the US face heat advisories. This initiative, if enacted, would be the first significant federal safety standard for heat and is set to protect around 36 million workers from heat-related injuries.
Speaking at the DC Emergency Operations Center, Biden criticized Republican lawmakers who deny climate change, labeling such denial as “outrageous” and “really stupid.” He emphasized the human and financial toll of climate change, noting that weather-related damage cost the economy $90 billion last year.
“More people die from extreme heat than floods, hurricanes and tornadoes combined,” Biden said. “These climate fueled extreme weather events don’t just affect people’s lives. They also cost money. They hurt the economy, and they have a significant negative psychological effect on people,” Biden said.
This proposed rule is part of a broader five-step plan by Biden’s administration to combat extreme weather, coinciding with Hurricane Beryl’s impact in the Caribbean. Other measures include a new FEMA rule to assess flood risks for federal projects, $1 billion in FEMA grants for disaster-affected communities, a new EPA report on climate change impacts, and a planned “White House Summit on Extreme Heat.”
Despite growing awareness of heat risks, protections for workers exposed to heat over 80°F (27°C) have lagged. The rule aims to cut worker-related deaths and illnesses from heat exposure by requiring employers to identify heat hazards, create heat illness emergency response plans, and provide training. Employers must also establish rest breaks, supply shade and water, and facilitate heat acclimatization for new workers. Penalties for heat-related workplace violations would increase.
An estimated 2,300 people died from heat-related illness in the US in 2023, and from 1992 to 2022, heat exposure claimed the lives of 986 workers across various industries, with construction accounting for 34% of these deaths.
Currently, only California, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, and Washington have workplace heat exposure standards. Recent legislation in Florida and Texas, led by Republican governors, has blocked local heat protections for outdoor workers. If finalized, the Biden administration’s rule would set a federal standard, requiring states to implement equally or more stringent measures.
The announcement coincides with the EPA’s release of a new report on US climate change indicators, which updates data from 2012 and includes new metrics on heat-related workplace deaths and marine heat waves.
( with agency inputs)