Federal heat protections could prevent 50,000 heat-related injuries every year, according to a new report.
Published Thursday, the study from nonprofit Public Citizen found that 170,000 injuries and 2,000 deaths from heat stress occur in United States workplaces every year. Nearly half of the deaths occur on the worker's first day at a job. 50,000 injuries could be prevented with federal heat protections.
“The toll of unaddressed workplace heat stress on workers’ lives and well-being is immeasurable and unacceptable,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen. “Meaningful action by Congress or OSHA could prevent tens of thousands of heat-related injuries and illnesses each year.”
Those most affected by heat-stress are the lowest-paid 20 percent of workers, who "suffer five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20 percent."
While the worst effect of heat-stress is its toll on human lives, the report also noted that employers lose over $100 billion annually in workers’ compensation, lawsuits, lost time, and turnover from injuries and deaths. But because heat does not damage real estate like other natural disasters, and because it primarily effects the lower economic class, experts say it it often underdiscussed, and therefore not prevented.
The report recommends that workplaces adopt "simple and affordable measures" that mitigate heat stress among employees. This includes access to cool drinking water and allowing “cool down” breaks in shaded or air conditioned spaces. New employees also should be "gradually acclimatized" to working in heat, but many injuries and even deaths can be avoided if all managers and employees receive training on the signs of and how to prevent heat-stress.
“For every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, workplace injuries rise by 1 percent, making heat stress prevention crucial,” Fulcher continued. “Employers can take simple actions to protect their employees, but unfortunately many see it as a burden. By implementing a binding and comprehensive heat stress standard from OSHA, we can prevent countless illnesses, injuries and fatalities and create safer, more productive workplaces.”