DENVER — Summer may be over, but that's not stopping federal officials from focusing on heat.
The U.S. Labor Department announced this week the launch of a new effort aimed at protecting workers from dangerous temperatures.
In this new push from the Biden administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the Labor Department, will soon begin drafting the agency's first ever heat-related labor standards.
"We often think of right away of workers in sectors, like agriculture and construction, but we also know that heat affects workers in many other industries. It also affects workers year around, and so it's a hazard that we're concerned with," said Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary for OSHA.
OSHA said there were more than 344 work-related deaths from heat exposure between 2011 and 2019. More than 40% of those deaths were people working in construction, repair or cleaning. OSHA also said during that eight-year period, more than 24,000 people suffered serious illness and injuries from working in the heat.
In a press release, OSHA added there could be more citing that heat illness is largely underreported.
According to CDPHE, 475 people were treated in emergency departments due to heat-related illness in 2018.
"The hazard of heat is causing thousands of injuries and illnesses as well as many deaths of workers," Frederick said.
Frederick shared that OSHA will take input from employers, stakeholders, workers and labor unions to learn more about the heat-related hazards that currently exist.
"Then, we'll move forward from that toward the eventual OSHA standard or regulation that would be in place," he said.
The final timeline for the regulation isn't set, but OSHA has launched an initiative in the meantime prioritizing interventions and work inspections on days when the heat index is above 80 degrees.
"We also know that by putting in controls and putting in a regulation, eventually that will help employers understand how better to control those heat hazards, will save lives and reduce injuries," Frederick said.
Depending on how OSHA drafts and finalizes its regulations, employers could see increased costs or lowered productivity.
"If I were to be the general contractor, that's a different ball game. He holds all the liability," said Darin Kraft, a subcontractor in the Denver area. "I don't think that the rules that they [OSHA] set in place are completely outlandish. It does absolutely cut into your bottom line, but it is absolutely necessary. They're a good watch dog."