The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun initiatives to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including a stakeholder meeting held in early 2022. On July 29, 2022, we submitted a comment on behalf of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United to encourage OSHA to promulgate  a rule to protect restaurant workers from unbearable heat and unsafe working conditions through the creation of federal heat safety standards.

The comment details ways in which extreme workplace heat – exacerbated by climate change – affects restaurant workers. It explains that people working in restaurant kitchens often work in unsafely hot conditions, but employers are not routinely protecting these workers. The comment describes what a good rule would entail, including requiring that employers develop and implement a comprehensive excessive heat prevention plan and protections for workers so that they can speak up about workplace hazards and report any health problems on the job without fear of retaliation. 

Restaurant workers are disproportionately women and people of color, making the risks from high heat faced by workers in this industry inequitable. These same workers are also among the least likely to be financially secure enough to leave a dangerous job or obtain necessary health care for heat-related hazards.

The comment includes excerpts of survey responses from over 500 people across all 50 states and Puerto Rico, some of which are shared below:

  • Kristin C. summarized the situation in Texas: “Temperatures get extremely hot when on the line cooking. Employers expect employees to work under those conditions without any aid given to try and make the situation better. It’s time for employers to invest in ways to mitigate temperatures in kitchens instead of expecting employees to ‘sweat it out.”
  • In Virginia, Leo H. recounted: “During a particularly brutal heatwave the kitchen I worked at had no air conditioning, just a box fan stuck in the wall. Workers fainted at least once a day… I myself passed out mid sentence and when I came to I suffered a severe anxiety attack. Quite frankly we were lucky nobody passed out and hit their head. No kitchen should be 20 degrees hotter inside than it is outside as it frequently was.”
  • In Montana, Stephen H. recounted: “I have personally watched people have heat stroke in restaurant lines due to extreme heat. I have become physically ill and vomited during periods of extreme heat. Severe dehydration is commonplace and a known fact of life for kitchen workers, and it is wrong.”
  • A doughnut shop employee in Oregon shared: “My previous workplace was a doughnut shop that had no air circulation aside from propping the front door open. The heat during the summer would get so bad that temps inside the shop could hit triple digits. Frosting would slide off doughnuts on the rack. Team members passed out with such frequency that it was just considered inevitable. If you passed out but woke up feeling okay, you’d be expected to continue your shift in the heat. The company wouldn’t give us a water filter and wouldn’t allow us to take bottled water without paying for it, so we had to fill a bucket with ice from the pizza place across the street and use that for our cold drinking water supply. Absolutely horrible conditions that resulted in walkouts at another location, and the employees who rightfully walked out were all fired.”

Read the comment here.