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September 22, 2021

President Joe Biden pledges action on extreme heat in US workplaces

President Joe Biden pledges action on extreme heat in US workplaces

The move comes after the global climate crisis resulted in a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in late June that led to around 600 excess deaths and thousands of hospitalizations.

An international team of climate scientists said that the heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, reports the Independent.

A workplace heat standard is to be established and enforced by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The department will undertake both scheduled and unscheduled workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 degrees Celsius). OSHA will also clamp down on employees being forced to work in dangerously hot indoor and outdoor workplaces.

While agriculture and construction workers are at the highest risk, indoor workers without climate-controlled environments, e.g. delivery workers and those employed in warehouses, factories, and kitchens, are also affected by extreme heat.

New initiatives will also look to alleviate the risks for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and the economically disadvantaged. For example, “cooling assistance,” such as access to in-home air conditioning and public cooling centers, will be offered to low-income residences.

Neighborhoods that suffer from the “urban heat island” effect—where manmade materials like glass, asphalt, and concrete trap excessive heat—will also see greening projects and tree planting.

Marie Connolly, in her IZA World of Labor article stresses: “Climate change is an issue that will affect all human beings.” She says, “societies can, and will have to, adapt to their new realities.” While most of the research in this area, reports Connolly, has focused on the US, the impacts of climate change will be felt globally. Connolly notes that, “[d]eveloping economies likely have fewer resources to invest in adaptive strategies, with potentially substantial consequences for increasing inequality,” and stresses how, “[p]olicies that facilitate adaptation will help reduce associated costs. For example, allowing more flexible working hours would enable people to adapt more easily to hot temperatures, by shifting their working hours to cooler moments of the day or to cooler days.”

World leaders are currently setting out their agendas ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will be held in Glasgow in early November.

Read Marie Connolly’s article, “Climate change and the allocation of time.”

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