Workers in Florida are protesting two proposed state bills that would pull the teeth from local governments regarding heat safety rule-making, relying on company officials to regulate themselves when it comes to shade, rest, and hydration for workers.
The House and Senate versions of the proposal, which NBC’s News Channel 8 On Your Side reported is working its way through the state’s legislative process, have drawn criticism from advocates who seek more heat-safety oversight as the mercury continues to rise.
Lawmakers uncoupled the heat provision from a minimum wage part of the legislation to encourage action on it.
The proposed bill would prohibit local governments from forcing companies to provide heat aid and services to workers beyond what is already required by law. There is federal oversight on workplace safety but no regulations specific to heat exposure for outdoor workers, per Channel 8.
A group representing outdoor workers in South Florida protested on Feb. 4, according to CBS News Miami, with one advocate saying their concerns are “all about protecting the rights of families.”
“[These measures] would strip away the county’s rights, and we know that extreme heat kills,” said the advocate at the protest, Esteban Wood. “No one should have to worry that their loved one will not come home.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has some advice on how to safely work in high heat, in addition to rules that require general safety for workers, according to the OSHA website.
Washington, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Colorado have laws regarding workplace heat exposure.
Why is it important?
Florida’s mercury is on the rise. Since 1950, the state’s average annual temperature has risen by 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, “compared to 2.7-degrees globally.” July tied June 1998 “as the hottest month ever in Florida,” according to the Florida Climate Center.
The repercussions are being realized in the worst way possible. A South Florida farmworker was one of at least two who died of presumed temperature-related issues last summer when heat records were being broken across the country. In response, the Miami-Dade County Commission worked on an ordinance requiring certain employers to provide laborers with heat safety classes, water, and shade time to recover, per Channel 8’s reporting.
But if passed, the state bill would nix the county’s ability to enact the proposed ordinance.
“One death in the hot sun is one too many,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Kionne McGhee said to Channel 8. “It is too damn hot not to be able to have water, shade, rest, and protection.”
“The intent of the bill is to ensure that employers have the ability to govern themselves and make sure they create the best working environment for their employees,” he said in the story.
What can be done to help?
With temperatures rising globally, it’s important to stay hydrated when active outside. The body starts struggling with high heat past 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Insider reported. Other ways to cool down include dunking your feet in water and taking regular breaks, even if you aren’t tired. Avoid sports drinks.
To get ahead on matters like this, it’s helpful to stay up to date on news and to hold politicians and businesses accountable by supporting policies and companies that prioritize the planet and people’s health.
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