Glass manufacturing and fabrication occur in hot work environments, and the facilities typically are not air-conditioned. These facilities perform various heat-related tasks, including heating sand, floating glass on a hot bed of liquid tin, and tempering, among others.
Warehouses such as the American Insulated Glass building in Birmingham, Ala., use fans and open doors to alleviate the heat. Magid Glove & Safety, a PPE manufacturer and distributor, states that cooling gear is helpful in these situations. Cooling gear includes cooling towels, face coverings and skullcaps.
A report published by the non-profit Public Citizen found that the failure of employers to mitigate the effects of heat stress on workers leads to “preventable heat-related illness, injury and fatalities and costs the U.S. economy $100 billion each year.”
According to Juley Fulcher, Public Citizen’s National Heat Stress Campaign coordinator and author of the report, as many as 2,000 workers each year lose their lives to excessive heat in the workplace. An additional 170,000 workers are injured in heat stress-related accidents at work.
To prevent heat-related incidents in the workplace, California Rep. Judy Chu introduced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act (H.R. 2193) in 2021. The legislation would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish an enforceable federal standard to protect workers. It was named after a worker who died from heat stroke after working 10 hours straight in 105°F temperatures. It has yet to be passed.
As a result of a call to action by the Public Citizen and the introduction of Chu’s bill, OSHA is now developing a new heat standard to target indoor workers without climate-controlled environments. The agency typically pursues charges against employers for heat-related injuries and illnesses among workers, primarily in outdoor environments. However, it has done so under the General Duty clause rather than any heat-related standard.
“Every day, workers around the country, whether on a farm or in a warehouse, work in 100°F temperatures or more just to feed their own families and the country,” Chu said when she introduced the bill. “But that exposure to high heat puts workers at risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Even in just a single eight to ten-hour shift, a worker can fall into a coma and die.”
Lurking behind the physical toll of heat exposure is the financial hardship. In a report for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth titled Workplace Safety, and Labor Market Inequality, the authors found that the lowest-paid 20% of workers suffer five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%.
These workers are ill-equipped to miss work. More than a third of low-wage workers cannot cover one month of living expenses, including necessities such as food, should they lose their income.
“The burden of occupational heat stress on the economy is tremendous and rapidly growing,” writes Fulcher. “Failing to mitigate the hazard for workers has great financial consequences for employers. And the price paid by workers is incalculable and unacceptable, not only in dollars but more importantly in the loss of health, safety and life.”
Key findings in Fulcher’s report include:
- The physical and mental capacity of workers to function drops as heat and humidity increase. For instance, when it’s 95°F with 75% humidity, worker capacity drops below 50%.
- Research has shown that medical costs increase 41.6% per degree Celsius when the temperature exceeds 91.4°F.
- Workers’ productivity declines approximately 2.6% per degree Celsius above a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) of 75.2°F.