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Tips for Arizona workers on staying safe in the extreme heat
As Arizona workers face life-threatening dangers from extreme heat driven by climate change, Arizona-based safety experts from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health are providing guidance to workers, unions, workers centers and advocates on staying safe in the extreme heat and how to prevent heat illness.
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“Federal law is crystal clear,” said Katelyn Parady, a Phoenix-based worker health and safety professional with National COSH. “Employers are required to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards – and that definitely includes the very dangerous hazards created by current record-breaking temperatures here in Arizona.”
Without adequate rest, water and shade, workers in both indoor and outdoor settings are at risk of heat illness and heat stroke, which can be fatal. As many as 2,000 workers die each year from heat exposure, with an additional 170,000 heat-related accidents, according to a study from Public Citizen.
“We can’t afford to wait until workers get sick, injured or die from extreme heat,” said Peter Dooley, a Tucson-based certified industrial hygienist (CIH) who provides program and technical support for National COSH. “Arizona workers have the right – today – to join with co-workers and demand immediate protections.”
This week, National COSH distributed a checklist to workers and advocates, in English and Spanish, outlining steps employers can and should take right away to protect workers from extreme heat. These tips for staying safe in the extreme heat include:
- Access to cool, potable water near the work area and sufficient time for workers to drink often
- Rest and shade for all workers
- Rescheduling work to cooler parts of the day
- Access to air conditioned rest areas for cool down
- Buddy systems to make sure workers are not alone
- Lessening production loads to account for slower pace of work
- Acclimatization programs to allow workers to adjust to hot environments over time.
- Modification to equipment and protective clothing to lessen the dangerous effects these can have on workers
If employers do not implement legally-required measures to reduce the risk from heat exposure, workers can file an online complaint with the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), or call the agency at (855) 268-5251. For assistance in filing a complaint, or if the agency does not respond, workers can contact National COSH at email@example.com.
The legal requirement to protect workers from extreme heat is found in the “general duty” clause of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide a workplace free from “recognized hazards.” In 2021, federal OSHA began a rulemaking process which will specifically address extreme heat hazards, with specific training, abatement and enforcement measures.
A handful of states – including California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington – have implemented their own standards for staying safe in the extreme heat. Oregon is the only state which protects both indoor and outdoor workers.
“Extreme heat will be a fact of life in Arizona for the foreseeable future,” said Parady. “While the federal ‘general duty’ clause is already on the books and can be enforced today, a specific standard that meets the needs of Arizona workers and businesses can offer even better protection. Governor Hobbs took a step in the right direction with an emphasis program that will provide more resources to conduct inspections and gather injury and illness data in high hazard industries exposed to extreme heat.
“Our state government,” Parody added, “should also begin work right away on a permanent safety standard to protect workers from heat exposure.”
“With our thermometers bursting, there’s no question we need to speed up the shift to an economy based on clean, renewable energy sources, with a fully-funded just transition so workers do not lose income or job security,” said Dooley. “But we can’t let workers suffer in the meantime. Rest, water shade and other measures are available now – and if employers don’t take these steps now, Arizona workers have every right to join together and demand immediate action.”