Attorney General Bonta Renews Call for Federal Action to Protect Workers Nationwide Against Extreme Heat

Thursday, February 9, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate coalition of attorneys general in a petition urging the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take emergency regulatory action to protect workers against extreme heat. As climate change results in higher temperatures around the world, workers across the United States face increased risk of heat-related illness and death. In the petition, the attorneys general specifically request that OSHA act immediately in line with its statutory authority to protect vulnerable workers across the country from extreme heat events and highlight the effectiveness of existing standards in California and other states. 

“From farmworkers to warehouse workers, climate change related extreme heat puts people’s lives and livelihoods at direct risk,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As climate change results in longer, more intense, and more frequent heatwaves, workers in California and across the country are increasingly and unnecessarily exposed to dangerous conditions on the job. We have the tools to address this challenge and we must use them. I urge the federal government to act swiftly to protect workers nationwide.”

Over the past 35 years, heat has claimed more lives per year on average than flooding and hurricanes combined. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, exposure to excessive heat seriously injured approximately 70,000 workers and killed at least 815 from 1992 through 2017. However, because heat exposure often exacerbates underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, it is likely that many heat-related deaths go misdiagnosed or unrecognized. While OSHA has initiated rulemaking for a permanent heat regulation standard, the process is expected to take several years, leaving millions of workers exposed to dangerous levels of heat in the interim. An emergency temporary standard would fill this regulatory void, especially during the summer months when workers are most likely to experience extreme, record-breaking heat. 

In the United States, there are millions of workers in industries and occupations who are at serious risk of injury or death from heat exposure — and the health impacts of extreme heat and other climate-related harms are not borne equally. Low-income communities and some communities of color suffer elevated rates of mortality and morbidity from extreme heat, with Black individuals being among the most vulnerable. Racial injustice is inherent in occupational heat exposure because jobs with the highest rates of heat-related illness are disproportionately held by people of color. For instance, recent data show that Hispanic or Latino immigrants in California and the Southwest — workers who are overrepresented in agriculture and construction — are disproportionately vulnerable to heat-related fatalities. 

In 2005, California adopted an emergency standard to reduce occupational heat-related illness following a major heatwave and, in 2006, became the first state to pass a permanent standard applicable to outdoor workers. California’s outdoor heat standard includes provisions on hydration; providing access to shade; emergency response procedures; acclimatization training; and heat illness prevention plans, as well as additional high-heat procedures for temperatures at or above 95°F. Modeled after the current standards in California, Oregon, and Washington, the petition requests that OSHA issue an emergency standard that requires employers to implement protective measures to protect workers from extreme heat when the heat index reaches 80°F. California conducts thousands of inspections annually to evaluate compliance and, between 2011 and 2017, issued more than $13 million in penalties to businesses that failed to adhere to the standards.

In the petition, the attorneys general assert:

  • Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, duration, and severity due to climate change;
  • Workplace exposure to extreme heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses and even death;
  • Occupational heat exposure is an issue of environmental and racial justice;
  • Workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths from heat exposure are likely significantly undercounted;
  • An emergency temporary standard is necessary to protect outdoor and indoor workers from the grave danger of extreme heat; and
  • OSHA should issue an emergency temporary standard that applies when the heat index reaches 80°F and requires employers to take targeted steps to prevent harm to their workers, such as providing ample water, rest breaks, and access to shaded or cool areas.

In submitting the petition, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

A copy of the petition is available here. A copy of the previous related comment letter is available here.

# # #