Travis Parsons, Director of Occupational Safety & Health at the LHSFNA, recently delivered comments on the impact of extreme heat on workers to the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). The bipartisan committee – led by chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and ranking member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – called on community, labor and private-sector representatives to discuss the growing challenges rising temperatures and severe weather events can have on transportation infrastructure in the U.S. and how the government can help address those dangers.
The committee convened at a time when extreme heat and severe weather are at the forefront of national news. As Parsons noted in his testimony, extreme weather is becoming an “unfortunate and enduring” reality. Year after year, the nation is experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, widespread wildfires and catastrophic storms in unprecedented areas. These extreme events have devastated communities, caused billions of dollars in damage and in the worst cases, taken lives.
“Extreme weather doesn’t just affect infrastructure, but also the people who build and maintain it,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Trustee Michael F. Sabitoni. “The health and safety of LIUNA members and all workers should play a significant role in any discussion about extreme heat and other weather events.”
In his opening remarks, Carper highlighted the increasing impact of extreme weather on infrastructure, such as road closures, travel disruptions, weakening of highway and bridge structures and rail track damage.
“The frequency, intensity and duration of more intense heat waves, wildfires and extreme weather across the United States have only gotten worse in recent years,” said Carper. “In turn, this has put our nation’s transportation infrastructure, workforce and travelers at greater risk of harm.”
Of all weather-related phenomena, extreme heat claims the most lives every year. Thousands of Americans are hospitalized annually due to heat-related illness. A large portion of these cases involve workers exposed to extreme temperatures on the job.
Citing the numerous health and economic consequences of inadequate worker protections, Parsons called attention to the urgent need for a national heat standard requiring employers to protect workers from extreme heat.
“The notion of a conflict between worker safety and business profitability is a false dichotomy,” said Parsons. “Ensuring heat hazard safety measures in the workplace is in everyone’s best interest.”
Capito argued that because every state has differing climates and needs, a one-size-fits-all solution would be unrealistic. Parsons agreed with Sen. Capito and the other panelists that local action will require a tailored approach, but reminded the committee that when it comes to heat, a national rule can provide a starting point.
“Prevention is our strongest defense [against heat-related illness],” Parsons commented. “We need codified heat protections across the country. The mantra of ‘water/rest/shade’ is a well-documented and easy-to-implement way to reduce the risk of heat-related incidents everywhere.”
The hearing also featured expert witnesses who spoke to how some regions are addressing extreme weather, how local governments can take action to make their infrastructure climate-resilient and how the federal government can make funding accessible to states looking to take on these projects. For instance, David Hondula, director of the Phoenix, Arizona, Office of Heat Response and Mitigation spoke about his city’s Cool Pavement Pilot Program, which aims to replace 100 miles of road in Greater Phoenix with “cool pavement” – a more reflective material that can lower surface temperatures by up to 12℉ – by the end of 2023.
As the nation continues to grapple with frequent extreme weather events, the need for policies and programs that promote resilient infrastructure and protect the health and well-being of workers is paramount. In this pursuit, the LHSFNA will continue to advocate for the working men and women who build this country and fight for the most protective standards possible.
“The right to a safe workplace is a fundamental human right, and exposure to excessive heat is one of the most pressing hazards facing workers today,” said Parsons. “The people who build this nation, provide our food and deliver essential goods deserve every safeguard available.”
Click here to watch the full testimony and hearing.