Biden administration seeks to protect Americans from extreme heat

by Reuters
Monday, 20 September 2021 16:30 GMT

Manuel sits on his porch in the midday heat as his home and the city of New Orleans continue to be mostly without power days after hurricane Ida tore through the state in Louisiana, U.S., September 3, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

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Public health and environmental groups have called for enforceable standards for outdoor workers exposed to extreme heat, a problem worsened by climate change

(Adds details, quote from administration statement, background)

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday ordered his administration to seek ways to ensure people are protected from extreme heat, including through work-related rules and other cooling efforts.

The order comes as public health and environmental groups have put pressure on the administration to create enforceable standards for outdoor workers exposed to extreme heat, at a time when the number of high heat days is projected to increase significantly due to climate change.

Excessive heat in the Pacific Northwest this summer, for instance, led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses, the administration said.

The essential outdoor jobs in sectors like agriculture, construction and delivery services are the most exposed to extreme heat and are disproportionately held by people of color, the administration said in a statement.

"Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities," Biden said in a statement.

Various federal government departments and agencies are being tapped to help provide cooling assistance to homes and neighborhoods and to ensure safe working conditions, Biden said.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop a process to create a workplace heat standard. The department will enforce the standard in part through workplace inspections on days when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

The administration also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to expand a program that provides home energy assistance to low-income Americans to allow for purchases of air conditioning units and to establish cooling centers.

Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency is coordinating the development of neighborhood cooling centers at public school facilities.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Valerie Volcovici; editing by Doina Chiacu and Alistair Bell)

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