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State governor passes law inhibiting protections for outdoor workers during sweltering temperatures: 'It's incomprehensible'

"That makes no sense, and it's unconscionable."

"That makes no sense, and it's unconscionable."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A new Florida law is putting outdoor workers' lives in danger by prohibiting cities and towns from passing heat protections.

What happened?

In April 2024, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that will bar municipalities from enacting heat protections for workers. 

The move was an apparent response to efforts from farmworkers in Miami-Dade County that sought to pass heat protections like required rest breaks and access to water and shade, the Guardian reported.

"It's incomprehensible that people who live in Florida, and are supposed to represent the people of Florida, can vote against the health and safety of the workers that make this economy run, who were considered essential workers just a couple years ago and given PPE, are now treated like this, and not giving protection from extreme heat," Jeannie Economos, an organizer with the Farmworker Association of Florida, told the publication. "That makes no sense, and it's unconscionable."

Why is this law concerning?

Up to 2,000 U.S. workers die each year because of heat stress, according to the Guardian, which cited a 2023 Public Citizen report. Heat stress can also cause an additional 170,000 injuries and cost the U.S. economy almost $100 billion annually because of lost productivity, according to the group.

Plus, hot days are expected to become more common as the climate crisis worsens — this will no doubt make heat waves more dangerous in the coming years. For instance, El Niño, coupled with rising global temperatures led to a number of deadly heat waves across the globe in 2023 and 2024. This included an abnormally high combination of temperatures and humidity in Texas in June 2023 that led to the death of a postal worker.

What's being done about the law?

So far, there are no nationwide laws protecting workers from heat, but states like California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota have individually passed heat protections for workers. 

Plus, Phoenix, which suffered more than 600 heat-related deaths during 2023's summer heatwave, has passed an ordinance that requires employers to provide cool drinking water, regular and necessary breaks, access to shaded areas and/or air conditioning, and training for all city contractors and employees.

Meanwhile, a number of business groups are lobbying against heat protections for workers at the federal level and lobbied aggressively for the Florida heat exemption bill, per the Guardian.

Economos told the news site that worker advocacy groups in Florida are regrouping and hope to find a way to override the new law. They also continue to advocate for federal heat protections for workers and conduct heat stress training for outdoor workers.

If you're caught in a heat wave, it's important to take precautions to protect yourself. These include staying indoors if possible, drinking water even if you're not feeling thirsty, avoiding strenuous exercise, finding a local cooling center if you lose power or don't have air conditioning, avoiding alcohol and drinks with caffeine, and avoiding the use of your oven/stove as much as possible.

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