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Protecting workers from extreme heat is a priority for the Western Governors’ Association

On a blistering hot day in southern California, construction workers carry large bottles of water during a break. Experts predict more intense and more frequent heat events across the country in coming decades, with huge implications for both indoor and
Richard Vogel
Associated Press
On a blistering hot day in southern California, construction workers carry large bottles of water during a break. Protections for workers during high heat days was a priority during a recent Western Governors’ Association meeting.

With summer upon us, at least two states in the country have passed laws banning protection from extreme heat, while several states in our region are establishing workplace protections.  Mitigating the effects of heat was discussed at a Western Governors’ Association meeting on April 26.

2023 was the hottest year on record and this year forecasters are expecting an equally hot summer.

In our region, Colorado and Nevada have established workplace heat safety standards. But nationally, states like Florida and Texas have blocked local mandates aimed at protecting workers from the heat.

John Balbus with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said heat affects more than outdoor workers. Elderly people, unhoused people and low-income residents who may not be able to cool their homes are also vulnerable. That’s why Balbus said heat is also a healthcare issue.

“So we’re working on policy advances, that includes Medicare and Medicaid waivers, so that physicians can prescribe air conditioners,” he said.

Panelists at the meeting talked about re-thinking current emergency policies and updating them to include heat mitigation and response. Balbus gave some examples of our current policies on the national level.

“We have the Stafford Act, which is for natural disasters but that was not designed for heat,” Bally’s said. “The law that governs the declaration of a public health emergency was not designed for heat. So there is a huge gap there.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said heat is the leading cause of weather-related fatalities. It has developed a heat risk tool to forecast potential impacts on the human body.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) in Las Vegas, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.