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Florida Bars Municipalities from Creating Life-Saving Heat Standards

Just in time for what’s expected to be the hottest summer on record, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a law blocking municipalities from creating regulations that protect workers from extreme weather. Thanks to this new law – House Bill 433 (HB 433) – employers will not be required to provide outdoor workers with basic heat-illness prevention measures like water, rest and shade. This leaves about two million workers in Florida, the hottest state in the country, vulnerable to extreme heat conditions starting July 1, 2024.

Under this new bill, Florida’s local governments will be required to adopt the state’s heat standards. Unfortunately, there are none. Supporters of HB 433 say that barring municipalities from enacting their own ordinances would help avoid a “confusing patchwork” of heat laws across the state. However, they neglect to mention that there are no statewide laws protecting workers from heat in the first place.

LIUNA General President Brent Booker
LIUNA General President
Brent Booker

HB 433 appears to be a response to Miami-Dade County’s recent efforts to fill that gap and create a local heat standard. If passed, Miami-Dade’s proposed rule would’ve required construction and agriculture employers to train workers on heat illness and provide them with water, shade and rest breaks on days where the heat index exceeds a certain threshold. These basic, easy-to-implement principles are considered the industry standard to prevent heat-related illness and serve as the basis for other state heat standards across the U.S.

However, Miami-Dade’s proposed rule was met with resistance from industry groups that claimed it would be too expensive or complicated to enforce and that it’s “anti-business.”

“Workers are not disposable. They’re an employer’s most valuable asset,” says LIUNA General President and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chair Brent Booker. “Every single life lost on the job is a tragedy, and it’s time for our laws to reflect that. Utilizing simple safety protocols to protect workers is not only in everybody’s best interest, it’s the right thing to do.”

Time for a Heat Standard

Currently, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Minnesota have their own state heat standards. Colorado’s heat standard applies to agricultural workers, while Minnesota’s heat standard is limited to indoor workplaces. Political squabbles have blocked efforts in states like Virginia and Nevada. And similar to Florida, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law stopping local jurisdictions from creating rules around occupational heat exposure.

Federal OSHA is working on a long-awaited heat standard, which thanks to the Biden Administration, is finally seeing some movement. The White House Office of Management and Budget has recently begun reviewing OSHA’s proposal for a heat illness prevention standard for indoor and outdoor workers. There are still several hurdles to cross before a standard is enacted, but this is a big step in the right direction.

In the meantime, employers can use state standards, OSHA’s National Emphasis Program, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) A10.50-2024 and other accepted best practices to guide their efforts in protecting workers. However, without proper enforcement, workers remain in a vulnerable position.

Of all weather-related phenomena, exposure to extreme heat is among the most deadly. Heat can cause illness or death directly, as well as contribute indirectly to heart attacks, kidney disease, falls and accidents. As temperatures continue to rise, experts predict that heat-related workplace incidents will only become more common.

The reality is, a state-by-state approach to heat leaves tens of millions of workers at risk. And while politicians squabble, real people suffer the consequences. Some argue that regulating employers is prohibitive and disruptive to business. The LHSFNA argues that every worker has the right to return home safely from work every day. And in order to do that, employers need standards to meet and be held accountable to.

“The right to a safe workplace is a fundamental human right, and exposure to excessive heat is one of the most pressing hazards facing workers today,” said the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Director Travis Parsons in testimony to Congress last September. “Prevention is our strongest defense [against heat-related illness]. We need codified heat protections across the country.”

For more on heat illness prevention, check out our Outdoor Hazards resource page.

[Hannah Sabitoni]

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