Massive heat wave prompts concerns for feds’ health

Temperatures are expected to reach dangerous levels across much of the Midwest and Eastern United States over the next few days, and the Office of Personnel Management has encouraged agencies to be extra vigilant in looking after employee health during that time.

The agency released a memo July 16 reminding agencies to remain aware of workplace flexibilities, such as telework and alternative work schedules to help agencies avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day.

“We should take all available steps to help protect our employees during potentially dangerous heat waves. Federal agencies are encouraged to remind their employees of the need to remain adequately hydrated during severe heat. Providing immediate and ready access to potable drinking water will help to protect the health and well-being of Federal employees during severe heat and humidity,” wrote acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert in the memo.

“During days with severe heat and humidity, agencies are reminded of OPM’s workplace flexibilities that may be used to reduce health risks.”

Though perhaps the typical image of a federal bureaucrat is an employee that works predominantly in air-conditioned office buildings, some employees at the Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Architect of the Capitol and others can spend the majority of their work hours outside, risking more prolonged heat exposure.

But some federal employee groups claim that the encouragement of workplace flexibilities during the heatwave simply highlights how strictly agencies have been curtailing such policies under normal circumstances.

“The administration’s hypocrisy on telework cannot go unchallenged. On the one hand, multiple agencies are aggressively trying to curtail telework programs for frontline employees, disrupting employees’ lives and hurting productivity," said National Treasury Employee Union National President Tony Reardon.

"And now we have a memo from the Office of Personnel Management encouraging agencies to use telework and alternative work schedules to help employees cope with the severe heat and humidity this week on the East Coast and Washington D.C. metro area. Similar guidance was issued to cover this summer’s major public transit disruptions in the D.C. area. While we welcome OPM’s focus on employee health and safety, this new memo, once again, clearly illustrates the value of the very program too many agencies and managers are trying to eliminate.”

The heat wave is expected to last through the second half of this week, according to the Weather Channel.

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