Fla. heat illness prevention bill faces uphill battle
Advocates in Florida are pushing for tougher standards for growers to protect their employees, arguing that rising global temperatures will make outdoor work unsustainable without the proper regulations.
Florida’s agriculture and construction employers could soon be required to train outdoor workers and managers on avoiding heat-related illnesses under proposed legislation.
The heat illness prevention bill, sponsored by Orlando Democrat Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, would set a statewide standard for all outdoor workers to be given plenty of drinking water, access to shade and ten-minute rest breaks enforced after every two hours of outside labor.
“We often call the farmworkers the ‘invisible ones’ because what they do is unseen, is unheard,” Smith said. “They do such important work and they’re often forgotten and we want to make sure that we’re protecting [them].”
The bill, and its companion bill in the Florida Senate, would also require annual training to spot signs of heat exhaustion and allow for “acclimatization,” or a two-week period for gradual adaptation to a hot environment.
The legislation could face a difficult path — it has no co-sponsors in the Florida House of Representatives and has yet to be assigned to any legislative committees.
OSHA recommends employers provide enough water, rest and shade for workers in hot environments. OSHA notes precautions should be taken if the heat index, a measurement that takes humidity and temperature into account, reaches 91 degrees or more.
But aside from avoiding general hazards, the federal agency does not have a standard for safety practices in indoor or outdoor heat exposure. Few states, including California and Minnesota, require workers and employers to be trained in avoiding heat-related illnesses.