The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency I ran under President Barack Obama, has no rule requiring protection from extreme heat. How to prevent heat illness and death is no mystery: Provide workers with adequate rest breaks in the shade or a cool area where they can rehydrate. But many employers will not do so unless they are forced, and unfortunately, OSHA is unlikely to require these basic protections any time soon.
I am not blaming the agency leadership or its staff—the people who work there are dedicated professionals committed to ensuring that people are safe at their jobs. The problem lies with Congress, which has failed to update the weak law it enacted more than half a century ago creating OSHA, and has refused to provide the agency with anywhere near the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. This weakness has been compounded by court decisions that have handcuffed OSHA. The result is that standards for common hazards take many years and often decades to be issued and enforced.