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Commentary Working & the Economy

Opinion: Time to turn up the heat on worker protections

Maryland has been working to implement worker heat protections since 2020. Photo by Batuhan Toker/Getty Images Plus.

By Tunisia Gannon, Todd Holden, Wynton Johnson, Tia McCoy-Johnson, Sam Mowery, Oluwadamilola Olaniyan, Wendy Smith and Rownite Stevens

The writers are presidents of local chapters of AFSCME, representing workers at Harford County public schools, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Global Campus, Jessup Correctional Institutions, Eastern Correctional Institution, and other government employees in Baltimore, the D.C. suburbs, Anne Arundel County and Washington County.

One year ago, Maryland OSHA published a proposed rule for a standard to protect both indoor and outdoor workers from heat stress on the job.  The standard was a long time coming.  It was required by legislation passed by the General Assembly in March 2020, just as the legislature was shutting down due to COVID.

Despite the lengthy runup to the proposal, the proposed rule was sorely inadequate, based on little input from stakeholders and practically unenforceable. Dozens of organizations and individuals wrote in to comment on how weak the proposed rule was, requesting it be withdrawn and revised to truly protect workers from heat. The General Assembly’s legislative review committee, formally the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, decided to put a hold on the proposal.

Thankfully, a new administration was elected one month later, providing the promise of protection for Maryland workers. Despite a long hot summer and at least one worker death in Maryland from heat, little progress has been made. While the new Department of Labor has made commitments to fix this problem, the weak proposed rule still has not been officially withdrawn. A new proposal needs to be drafted that more closely parallels existing state standards in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended standard.  Public hearings must be held to gather input on the draft as well.

Many states decline to require water breaks for outdoor workers in extreme heat

We need to move fast to finalize a standard before next summer’s brutal heat. We look forward to working with the Moore administration to expedite this rulemaking and ensure it is truly protective. Protection from heat should be a right for workers, not something that occurs only with the benevolence of employers. It doesn’t have to be complex. Workers need water, rest, shade, training, provisions for emergencies and, most importantly, the right to stop work if they are experiencing the signs and symptoms of heat stress.

Summers are not getting cooler, and we need the state to step in to protect workers from dangerous heat.


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Opinion: Time to turn up the heat on worker protections