Health & Science

Texas workers may get extra protection from extreme heat, as Biden administration develops first-ever national heat standard

The Biden administration is working on the standard as fights continue in Texas courts over a state law that would void local ordinances mandating water breaks for outdoor workers.


A Republic Services worker in Houston assists with garbage collection on a summer afternoon. The company has been fined in the wake of heat-related deaths of workers but says it has implemented prevention policies. This worker was not interviewed for the story.

Austin and Dallas city ordinances mandating water breaks for outdoor workers will remain in effect for now, while challenges to House Bill 2127 – known to critics as the "Death Star Law" – work their way through the courts. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor is taking extra steps to protect workers from extreme heat.

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su said OSHA has been stepping up inspections to protect workers from dangerous heat on the job.

"Let me also mention another effort, which is that the Department of Labor is also working on a national heat standard. It would be the first nationwide rule regulating heat in the workplace," Su said.

Texas Congressman Greg Casar said the legal challenges to HB 2127 could take years to play out. "I hope that the courts continue to read the law as unconstitutional," Casar said, "but between now and then, we're wasting no time to get this federal heat standard in place."

Until then, Secretary Su said her department would use other tools to ensure Texas employers comply with existing heat safety regulations. Still, opponents of HB 2127 noted during the regular session of the 88th Texas Legislature that OSHA has been understaffed in Texas. That has complicated its ability to enforce existing labor protections.

"We are going to do everything in our power to use our investigators, our ability to inspect workplaces, and our ability to issue penalties to bring...all employers into compliance with their general duty to ensure a healthy and safe workplace," Su said.

Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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