Athol Daily News – Feds propose high-heat work standards

Athol Daily News – Feds propose high-heat work standards

Athol Daily News – Feds propose high-heat work standards

Lack of rain in the summer of 2016 affected properties around Massachusetts, including Boston Common.

Lack of rain in the summer of 2016 affected properties around Massachusetts, including Boston Common.

The federal government has proposed the first national safety standard aimed at keeping workers safe from excessive heat in the workplace and has made $1 billion available for hundreds of projects, including 30 in Massachusetts, that attempt to mitigate climate threats including extreme heat.

The federal move comes as Massachusetts begins to prepare for average temperatures that are likely to rise in the coming decades, as well as more frequent and severe natural events such as flooding, wildfires and heat waves. Extreme heat also diminishes air quality and can pose health hazards, particularly for older adults, children and people with chronic illnesses.

Average summer temperatures in Massachusetts will be similar to those in Maryland in 2050, North Carolina in 2070 and Georgia in 2090, the Healey administration said last year. Hot days will get even hotter as humidity also increases, which could cause “significant consequences for human and ecosystem health, as human populations and ecosystems in Massachusetts are not adapted to or accustomed to these temperatures,” the administration said.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday released a proposal requiring employers to develop injury and illness prevention plans, assess heat risks and protect new workers who are not accustomed to working in the heat. Employers will also have to set aside time for water and rest breaks, and control heating in indoor spaces when the risk to workers is high.

The rules will be open to public comment before becoming final.

“Workers across the country are fainting, suffering heat stroke and dying from heat exposure simply by doing their jobs, and something must be done to protect them,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.

OSHA’s standard is intended to help about 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work environments. Construction and agricultural workers, utility workers, mail and package delivery workers, and landscapers can face extreme heat outdoors, and warehouse workers, manufacturing plant employees, bakers and cooks, and laundry workers can face similar heat hazards indoors.

According to OSHA, California, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota and Washington are the only states with workplace standards on heat exposure. The agency said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 479 worker deaths from ambient heat exposure in the United States between 2011 and 2022 — an average of 40 deaths each year — and about 33,890 work-related heat injuries resulting in days off work were also recorded in that period. OSHA called those estimates “likely greatly underestimated.”

The updated Statewide Climate Adaptation and Hazard Mitigation Plan that the Healey administration released in the fall identified intense heat as one of the three most significant hazards for Massachusetts along with rainfall flooding and coastal flooding from sea level rise.

“This is the year that changed everything. We saw frost, flooding, extreme heat and wildfires devastate our communities,” said Melissa Hoffer, Climate Director in October. “These weather events are only expected to increase.”

One initiative identified in the report to address the threat of extreme heat involves the Executive Office of Health and Human Services coordinating a multi-agency effort to develop and implement a new “heat flag system” to effectively communicate heat risk to the public, and for other parts of state government to make more shaded areas and cooling structures available.

When the Senate passed its climate and energy bill last week, senators adopted an amendment from New Bedford Sen. Mark Montigny that would require the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities and the Department of Public Health to study the idea of ​​applying for cooling assistance funds as part of the state’s application for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which has traditionally provided residents with home heating assistance.

The study would have to consider the number of households that could qualify for cooling assistance, the potential health impacts of offering cooling assistance, and whether offering cooling assistance would affect the state’s ability to offer heating assistance. The amendment was adopted without discussion.

Also on Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced nearly $1 billion in grants for 656 projects across the country to help communities protect themselves against disasters and natural hazards. Of those projects, 12 will receive about $13 million total to mitigate the effects of extreme heat, including things like shaded bus stops.

“Given the increasing risks posed by extreme heat impacts, FEMA encourages more states, tribes and territories to apply for extreme heat projects during future grant cycles,” the agency said.

There are 30 Massachusetts projects that FEMA lists as “identified for further review” through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. The agency said the designation “does not automatically imply that an award will be made,” but rather that the project “is selected and funding is available based on the applicable subtotals.”

Another 13 Massachusetts projects were not selected in this round of funding, FEMA said, and six projects were deemed ineligible to receive funding.