Top Tips for Staying Alive While Working In the Heat

Washington (GGM) Analysis | August 19, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

Heat can hurt, warned UCLA Assistant Professor of Public Policy Dr. R. Jisung Park in a Twitter thread last month. “In unexpected ways, even indoors,” Park emphasized along with images highlighting the data that supported his assertions. Millions of Americans suffered through a scorching heat wave that punished the Pacific Northwest from late June to mid July, 2021. The staggering temperature highs jolted mayors and governors across five states. “Hotter temperature increases workplace injuries significantly,” Park stated point blank in one tweet.

With so many enduring the negative impact of the heat, and with the IPCC Report confirming last week that we are now above 1ºC and will remain there for at least 20-30 years, (although scientists are very concerned temperatures will climb even higher, possibly at an exponential rate if we don’t act now to lower carbon emissions), the public must demand that OSHA rush to establish national Heat Index Standards to protect employees from the dangers while on the job.

The federal Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration (OSHA) was created on April 28, 1971 after 100 years of workers demanding protection from the torturous conditions endured during the boom in factory jobs that arose during Reconstruction, following the Civil War and beyond. Massachusetts was the first state to pass factory inspection laws in 1877. By 1890, the number rose to 9 states with factory inspection laws. Does this sound familiar? We’ve been experiencing this kind of grueling, slow motion response with curbing carbon emissions for decades. Millions of citizens protest and demand action, but legislative follow through is dangerously slow.

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With temperatures rising, and multiple employees dying at work in the unprecedented heatwaves of 2021, there’s no time for delay. We must call our local, state, and federal representatives and demand that OSHA act now.

According to OSHA, the heat index is the combination of air temperature combined with humidity to create a value that is usually significantly higher than the actual air temperature. The AccuWeather app refers to this as RealFeel.

OSHA has never had specific heat index standards that cover employees working in hot environments. They do have strong messaging about “water, rest, shade” on their web page: Using the Heat Index: a Guide of Employers, but it’s not required and there’s no legal liability if employers do not provide these three essentials.

On July 8, 2021, Oregon’s OSHA established temporary agency standards that applied to both indoor and outdoor work environments where the temperature in the work area was 80ºF or higher. These emergency standards went even further if temperatures exceeded 90ºF. The temporary heat index standards will stay in effect until permanent heat index standards are passed. California and Washington have also adopted heat standards. But there are approximately 30 million Americans who work outdoors in the heat, and we have 47 states that do no have any employer requirements when the temperature skyrockets.

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Under Oregon OSHA’s Temporary Heat Standard, employers must:

  • Provide shade area that meets certain specifications
  • Provide 32 oz of dinking water every hour
  • Provide training for all employees, in whatever language they speak, to educate on: environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, as well as employee rights and obligations under the heat standard, acclimatization, common signs and symptoms, factors affecting tolerance of heat stress, and how to quickly report.
  • In high heat, with temperatures above 90ºF, employers must create a communication channel between an employee working alone and a supervisor; a mandatory buddy system for others; one designated employee per worksite who’s authorized to call for emergency medical services; ten minutes in the shade every two hours; and implementation of acclimatization practices. 
  • Establish an Emergency Medical Plan
  • Review work sites to determine how these new rules will apply to their sites
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We know that heat is here to stay and will only be getting worse. Our inability to move quickly will cost lives. There’s already so much at stake with climate change. Let’s learn from our past mistakes of inaction, to create a safer tomorrow as we all face, and try to manage, a very oppressive enemy—high heat.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
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Single-Use Plastic Bags MUST Go

Washington (GGM) Analysis | November 19, 2020 by Attorney Michael Wells, PodcastLegal Fact and Fiction

With the world in the grip of a pandemic, everyone wants something to make life less troublesome. Plastic bags make carrying things much easier. More items can be carried, which means you can avoid going back to your car in the rain or marching through the snow to retrieve that one last item. If only it were so simple. If only we did not have to worry about the environment.

On March 1, 2020, New York state’s ban on plastic bags became law. This means any entity authorized to collect sales taxes cannot distribute plastic bags. Failure to follow this law subjects the entity to up to a fine of up to five-hundred dollars per incident. The State of New York created the ban for good reason. Prior to the ban, New York State produced on average twenty-three billion bags per year, which filled already overflowing landfills, snagged recycling sorters, and wreaked havoc with birds to name just a few problems.

New York is not the only state that passed such a ban. Eight other states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Vermont) have passed similar laws.

Of course, not all states have such rules, and these states still produce millions of plastic bags. It does raise the question: can lawsuits force other states to ban plastic bags?

Maybe. It is probably a state by state process unless Congress passes a statute under, for example, the Interstate Commerce Clause, that says plastic bags somehow affect interstate commerce. That may sound far fetched, but it is not. The Interstate Commerce Clause allowed Congress to pass much of the civil rights legislation, and it is quite a big stick to bludgeon states into submission. Whether Congress wants to take this up remains doubtful. 

In states that have the plastic bans, the bans are not absolute. New York has some restrictions. Most notably restaurants that offer takeout food, which in the age of COVID-19, can create many plastic bags, are exempt. Although it is likely not “an exception that swallows the rule,” this limitation still creates a problem when so many more people are getting takeout and likely will for the foreseeable future as virus numbers explode. 

But what about other plastic or rubber?

Rubber glove use during the pandemic harms the environment, and there is no end in sight. While banning plastic bags everywhere will help, it will not solve all issues. It should still be done, however. 

More needs to be done because bags are not the only problem:

While plastic bags certainly make things easier to carry, their burdens to the environment certainly outweigh their benefits. The extent to which lawsuits or Congressional action will limit their use remains unknown. People should count on neither. It really is about personal choices, which must also be made with respect to other items people use. Over time it can all add up to pollution, death, and, as we have seen with COVID-19, a pandemic.

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