April 5, 2022

2022 Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture to Examine Cost of Heat-Related Illness on U.S. Workers

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (April 5, 2022)—AIHA’s 2022 Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture will be presented by Kristen Lombardi, who is the head of Columbia Journalism Investigations, the postgraduate reporting program of the Columbia Journalism School. The Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture is one of the programmed events at AIHA’s annual conference and expo, AIHce EXP. Titled “Hot Days: How Data and Documents Shined a Light on Heat's Mounting Death Toll on Workers In the US,” Lombard’s lecture will offer insight into how the lack of a national heat standard safeguarding workers against hot temperatures has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American workers and enforced a system rife with problems.

With record-breaking temperatures becoming more common during summer months, the risk of heat stress-related illness in the workplace is increasing, and as climate change fuels hotter days, scientists assert that the problem will get worse. NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations found that 384 workers in 37 states have died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. within the last decade. These workers include farm laborers in California, construction and trash collection workers in Texas, and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. Lombardi is one of four partner editors, along with eight reporters, who produced this multi-newsroom collaboration

“We at Columbia Journalism Investigations feel humbled by AIHA’s recognition of this important story,” said Lombardi. “Upton Sinclair embodied the very best of investigative reporting—exposing those responsible for workplace harms and showing the path to a better way.”

The Texas Newsroom, the California Newsroom, and Public Health Watch participated alongside NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, and Lombardi cited these organizations as sharing the honor brought by AIHA’s recognition. “All of us are grateful for the opportunity to give an inside look at what it took to do this investigation,” she said, “and to highlight the shortfalls we found in the regulatory system for dangerous heat and the lasting consequences for the families of workers who died as a result. We could not have told this story without their trust that we would do their loved ones justice.”

More information can be found in NPR’s August 17, 2021, article covering the investigation.

The Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture will be held at 3:15 p.m. Central time on Monday, May 23, at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Members of local media who are interested in obtaining press passes to this event should contact Ina Xhani, AIHA’s communication specialist.

About the Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture

The Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture for an Outstanding Occupational Safety and Health News Story of the Year was instituted in 2000 by AIHA’s Social Concerns Committee. The lecture aims to inform AIHA members about the state of occupational safety and health beyond their plants and companies, involve the public in the cause of occupational safety and health, highlight the importance of media, and recognize good investigative reporting. The lecture is named in honor of activist Upton Sinclair, whose 1906 novel The Jungle led to major health and safety changes in the Chicago meatpacking industry.

About Kristen Lombardi

As head of Columbia Journalism Investigations, the Columbia Journalism School’s postgraduate reporting program, Kristen Lombardi produces investigative stories while training the next generation of reporters. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Boston University, Lombardi was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an Ochberg Fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma prior to joining the Columbia Journalism School in 2018. Lombardi’s 26 years in journalism include 11 years as an investigative reporter covering environmental and social justice issues at the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom. In 2013, President Barack Obama signed a law addressing problems exposed in her 2009–2010 “Sexual Assault on Campus” series for the Center for Public Integrity. She has received numerous national and regional awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award, the Dart Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service.

Under Lombardi’s editorial leadership, CJI fellows have dug into heat-related deaths in the workplace, the toll of climate-fueled disasters on mental health, and response to sexual assault by online dating companies. CJI investigations have won top prizes from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Peabody Awards.

About AIHA

AIHA is the association for scientists and professionals committed to preserving and ensuring occupational and environmental health and safety in the workplace and community. Founded in 1939, we support our members with our expertise, networks, comprehensive education programs, and other products and services that help them maintain the highest professional and competency standards. More than half of AIHA's nearly 8,500 members are Certified Industrial Hygienists, and many hold other professional designations. AIHA serves as a resource for those employed across the public and private sectors, as well as to the communities in which they work.