'Cruel’ | Florida Senate bill bans local protections for workers against extreme heat

Florida Senate bill bans local protections for workers against extreme heat

The Florida Senate passed a bill on Friday banning its cities and counties from implementing legislation designed to protect workers from extreme heat including water and shade breaks.

Under the new requirements, set to take effect from 1 July, local agencies may not "mandate or otherwise impose heat exposure requirements on an employer, an employee, a contractor, or a subcontractor” that extend beyond federal law.

Enforcing workplace standards such as mandatory water breaks or scheduled rests in the shade for approximately 23% of Florida’s workforce - around two million outdoor workers - is now prohibited.

Those in favor of the legislation suggest it will create uniform standards across the state of Florida. Those opposing the bill, including labor organizations, describe the legislation as an attack on basic safety and guidance for vulnerable outdoor workers.

“This legislation is cruel,” says Oscar Londoño, Executive Director of WeCount!, a worker advocacy non-profit. “It’s a bad faith attempt to keep labor conditions very low for some of the most vulnerable workers.”

Anna Eskamani, a member of the Florida state senate, says outdoor workers are “just looking for some basic safety and guidance,” having opposed the bill. “We have generations of folks who are experiencing heat stress because they’re outside, kidney failure because there are no bathroom breaks.”

Extreme heat conditions are increasingly a major threat to workers, particularly those in industries such as construction and agriculture or other outdoor occupations.

U.S. outdoor workers’ exposure to hazardous heat conditions, driven by climate change, is set to quadruple between now and 2056. “Every single year, it’s going to get hotter and hotter. Many more workers’ lives are going to be at risk,” adds Londoño.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, average annual heat-related deaths grew 95% in the US from 2010 to 2022. 2023 was also the hottest year in recorded history and states including Florida experienced a series of heatwaves lasting multiple weeks at a time.

The National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries In 2022, released by The Bureau of Labor Statistics in December 2023, found that deaths due to exposure to temperature extremes increased by 18.6% in 2022. Fatalities specifically due to environmental heat were 43 in 2022, up from 36 in 2021.

People of color are particularly at risk. According to 2018 census data, over 40% of all outdoor workers in the U.S. are Black or Hispanic, despite only making up 32% of the country’s population.

As reported by the Guardian, Florida has close to 83,000 landscape gardeners, nearly 70,000 construction workers, and 200,000 migrant farmworkers.

What varying extreme heat legislation means for HR

Workplace heat standards do not exist at the federal level. The Biden administration has proposed federal heat protections at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for workers but may take years to come into effect, if at all.

As such, laws vary greatly from state to state, meaning HR teams and employers must be wary of variation in legislation, including in states where bills such as this do not exist and there is county-by-county or city-by-city variation in requirements for protecting (outdoor) workers from heat exposure. Consulting with legal teams can help HR to identify the standards and practices they must provide for their workforce.

Texas, for example, passed similar legislation to Florida in 2023, preventing local agencies from establishing mandatory water breaks and rests in the shade.

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Only California, Oregon, and Washington have legislation protecting outdoor workers from heat exposure hazards and high ambient temperatures.

In California for example, shade must be present when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers must also be “allowed and encouraged to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.”

Although they cannot be legally required to do so by cities or counties in Florida, HR teams and employers are still free to implement their own ordinances on extreme weather conditions such as high heat, and should take any laws as minimum standards, particularly whilst annual heat-related deaths rise year-on-year.

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