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OSHA being asked to develop heat-stress prevention regulations

Workers in the agricultural field are often exposed to extreme environmental conditions. As a result, there have been more than 780 heat-related deaths over the past 24 years. In an effort to prevent more unnecessary deaths, dozens of worker advocacy groups are petitioning OSHA to develop a nationwide heat-stress prevention regulation that could benefit all farm workers, including those here in Missouri.

An estimated 130 workers' groups and nearly 100 individuals are united in their efforts to pressure the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set nationwide standards that could protect workers against the dangers posed by extreme heat conditions. Thus far, only a few states and the armed forces have set standards that provide for access to rest, shade and water for workers who are employed as agricultural workers. Along with mandated access to these basic necessities, the groups are requesting that OSHA implement mandatory heat acclimatization plans and appropriate worker training in an effort to combat the harm that long-term heat can cause to farm workers.

The federal agency has addressed the dangers of heat-stress through informational pamphlets and other resources, and can issue citations to employers who violate these guidelines under its General Duty rules. However, advocacy groups fear that, without set regulations, more than 130 million agricultural workers are at risk of grave illness or death. In 2016, an estimated 39 workers died due to heat stress, and over the past few years, the number of heat-related deaths has increased.

Included in the individuals who are seeking action on the part of OSHA are two former administrators of the agency. One lawmaker in California was prompted to introduce legislation in that state after one worker died after enduring 10 hours of labor in temps that exceeded 104 degrees. It is hoped that a nationwide standard would prevent similar tragedies. Missouri residents who have suffered a work-related illness or injury can seek experienced assistance in filing a valid claim for workers' compensation benefits.

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