Faced with hotter working conditions, activists await new state regulations on employee protections


A video of a UPS driver who collapses at work in Arizona went viral last month. After a brief break, the employee gets up and goes back to work.

Millions of workers toil in similar conditions as heat waves ravage the country this summer.

In Maryland, supporters of legislation to protect workers from heat stress are frustrated with what they call the Hogan administration’s “lack of urgency” and transparency in creating regulations to implement the bill, nearly two years after it came into force.

The recent heat wave highlights the importance of heat regulation as the Maryland Department of Labor continues work on achieving House Bill 722which adopted the General Assembly in 2020.

The Department of Labor’s Labor and Industry Commissioner, Matthew Helminiak, said the agency plans to complete the draft regulations in the “coming weeks”.

Public awareness of the growing number of heat-related illnesses has grown as industries around the world grapple with the impacts of climate change. House Bill 722 was designed to mitigate the effects of climate change on state residents, Del said. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), lead sponsor of the legislation.

“I really look at the heartbreaking reality that we have a warming planet,” Charkoudian said in an interview. “And while we’re trying to slow the warming down, we have to make sure we’re taking care of everyone.”

A group of labor and health professionals wrote a letter to Helminiak and Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson in support of heat stress regulations in November. “As heat-related worker fatalities are linked to unusually hot temperatures, workers exposed to heat on the job will continue to suffer as long as this weather trend continues, unless protected by a standard,” we read in the letter. Signatories included various climate and labor groups, including the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights and AFSCME District 3, the government workers’ union.

The bill requires the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, to create and enact regulations by Oct. 1 that require employers to protect employees from heat-related illnesses .

The ministry was required to hold four public hearings to get comments on the settlement, according to Charkoudian. All public hearings are over, but turnout has been low, Helminiak said.

Helminiak said the ministry is still accepting comments by email to [email protected]but said the agency hasn’t received many so far.

Scott Schneider and Darryl Alexander, who work for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said these regulations are necessary to protect the most vulnerable populations in state industries.

Schneider said implementing federal OSHA regulations is taking too long and Maryland could follow the example of other states moving forward with worker protection legislation such as California. and Oregon.

Both are among the few states that have permanent heat stress standards. California only covers outdoor workers, but Oregon’s also includes indoor workers, with a few exceptions.

Alexander said there was a lack of data on how heat stress affects workers in various industries. New regulations could help improve data collection.

Schneider, Alexander and Charkoudian criticized the Department of Labor, saying the agency did not publicize the public hearings enough, resulting in low turnout and limited public reaction.

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health “missed crucial opportunities to solicit the in-depth experience and expertise of workers, unions, employers, professionals and affected organizations on heat exposure during these informational hearings. “, the advocacy groups wrote in their November letter.

If the department had been operating normally, officials would have released draft recommendations for the new regulations “months ago,” Schneider said.

“The delays are all on their part,” Schneider said. “They’ll probably blame COVID, but they should have posted something months ago, if not last year.”

Helminiak said the department faces the challenge of creating regulations that would work for both small and large businesses.

“It’s part of the struggle we’ve had. How to make something that’s useful, but doesn’t become so heavy as a small [business] have trouble complying with it? he said.

Helminiak said the department is looking at laws in other states to see what provisions would work in Maryland.

He also said industries that have historically faced heat stress, such as construction, already have programs in place to prevent it. For these companies, heat management is normal.

“Yes, it’s been hot for the past two summers, but there are days that are just as hot every year,” Helminiak said.

The commissioner said workers can use the state’s general duty clause, requiring healthy working conditions, to sue employers who require them to work in unsafe conditions, even in the absence of regulations.

But Schneider and Alexander said the state law provision doesn’t do enough to protect workers. Alexander cited COVID-19 as an example of the limitations of the law, as it did not provide adequate protection for healthcare workers.

Using the general duty clause to safeguard workers’ rights is becoming a legal issue that can take months to resolve, the labor expert said. Meanwhile, workers suffer under the same conditions.

Frustrations with the Department of Labor began before the agency’s slow response to Bill 722, according to the bill’s creators. The ministry is very reluctant to issue new regulations that might protect workers, Alexander said.

The bill’s sponsors seek to impose penalties on employers who fail to monitor their work environment and prevent heat-related illnesses.

Activists are ready to respond when the draft regulations are released, Alexander said.

Payment is due October 1.

The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration Advisory Board is hosting an in-person and virtual meeting on August 23 to discuss heat stress standards.


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