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Heat Safety Advocates Criticize Florida Law Banning Water Breaks, Cooling Measures

Apr 25, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

A new measure signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that prohibits local workplace standards requiring drinking water and cooling measures increases the risk of worker deaths from heat exposure, according to worker safety advocates.

“The bill in Florida threatens to strip millions of workers of fundamental heat protection measures, such as access to drinking water and rest breaks,” says Margaret Morrissey, PhD, senior occupational heat advisor at the Korey Stringer Institute. “Denying these safeguards is not only inhumane but also significantly heightens the risk of fatalities due to extreme heat exposure.”

Effective July 1, the Florida law prohibits cities and counties from imposing their own heat-protection rules on businesses. These include requiring water breaks, cooling measures, recovery periods, posting or distributing materials informing workers how to protect themselves from the heat, and requiring first aid or emergency responses. A similar law was passed in Texas in 2023, preempting local laws across a broad group of categories, including workplace standards such as construction worker rest break requirements currently in place in Austin and Dallas.

This runs contrary to heat safety standards that have been established in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state, with California considering extending the rules to cover indoor workers. A similar rule is in the works in Maryland, which would become the first East Coast state to have a heat protection standard; legislation along the same lines has been proposed in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a federal indoor and outdoor heat safety standard, but there’s no word on when it will be ready.

Meanwhile, the Florida law could prove disastrous, says Morrissey, who is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Providence College.

“Of grave concern is the disproportionate impact this legislation will have on vulnerable workers, particularly non-U.S. citizens and those facing low-income challenges,” she adds. “Already burdened with dire working conditions, these individuals will bear the brunt of the bill’s repercussions.”

Morrissey’s concerns are echoed by Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen.

“Workers in Florida will die in the Florida heat as a result of Gov. DeSantis’ signing this bill. Denying any worker access to water or shade in the heat of summer is inhumane and cruel, yet Florida just allowed employers to do exactly that,” she said in a statement. “Each year, hundreds of workers across the U.S. die excruciating deaths from heat, and now, employers in Florida have backing from the state to deny their workers basic protections from heat stress and any information about how to protect themselves.”

Both advocates say the federal government could take action.

“The patchwork of enacted state laws that expose workers to extreme heat without protections demand a clear correction from Congress and the Biden Administration. [OSHA] could impose an emergency temporary heat rule in time for summer, but has rejected calls to do so,” she said. “Congress could act today by passing the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, which would direct OSHA to implement an interim heat standard right now. Despite nearly 100 co-sponsors, the bipartisan bill currently languishes in congressional committees. It is past time for the federal government to step up and protect workers in what will be the hottest summer of our lives.”

Morrissey notes that the situation is urgent.

“The gravity of this situation calls for immediate intervention from the federal government. It is imperative to mandate a federal heat stress standard to protect Florida’s outdoor workforce,” she says. “The urgency cannot be overstated, as heat-related fatalities are entirely preventable through the implementation of evidence-based protection strategies and emergency procedures.”

Jay Kumar is editor of Facilities Management Advisor sister publication EHS Daily Advisor.

The post Heat Safety Advocates Criticize Florida Law Banning Water Breaks, Cooling Measures appeared first on Facilities Management Advisor.

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