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To the Florida State Legislators:
We, the undersigned organizations, are calling upon Florida lawmakers to pass common sense heat stress protections –water, rest, and shade – for workers across the state whose labor our economy depends on, but whose health is at risk from working in high heat environments. Florida works, because people work. And, workers in the Sunshine State are at growing risk from rising temperatures as a result of global warming. Heat is the leading weather-related killer, and 17 of the last 18 years were the hottest on record in the United States. The current national epidemic of heat stress injuries and deaths will worsen in the coming years, as record-breaking summers are now becoming the norm. Outdoor workers and those who work in enclosed, confined spaces with minimal air circulation are at greatest risk of heat stress.
Our state’s economy depends on the work of agricultural laborers, who harvest the food that feeds us, and construction workers, who build our homes, our cities, and our roads and highways. Yet, they are among the most vulnerable of Florida’s workforce to heat stress. They labor outdoors, often in direct sunlight with little to no access to shade, performing strenuous work. Farmworkers are often paid by piece rate, which discourages them from taking rest breaks or stopping to hydrate. They often wear long-sleeve shirts to protect themselves from pesticide exposure, which increases their body temperature. Construction workers often have to wear or carry tools, protective clothing and equipment that can increase their risk of heat stress.
No worker should be at risk of hospitalization or death for merely going to work and performing their job. However, a recent report, Unworkable: Dangerous Heat Puts Florida Workers at Risk, revealed that “outdoor workers in every Florida county were exposed to … dangerous levels of heat … an extraordinary proportion of the time.” Florida already has one of the highest rates of heat-related hospitalizations in the nation, even when the data are adjusted for age. Heat can also exacerbate other health problems, such as asthma and heart disease.Further, heat exposure can have unexpected short and long-term consequences that have only begun to be explored. A 2015-2017 study by Farmworker Association of Florida and Emory University examined the effects of heat on agricultural workers throughout Florida. Of participants: 49% had an internal body temperature that exceeded the heat stress limit on a typical workday during the study; 40% described experiencing three or more symptoms of heat-related illness during the previous week; 80% had mild dehydration, and 13% severe dehydration at the end of the work day; and more than 30% developed acute kidney injury on at least one day, which, if chronic can lead to kidney failure.
In 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, Florida had 1,112 heat-related hospitalizations. These figures are almost certainly undercounts, as many of the illnesses that can result from heat stress, such as stroke or heart attack, often are not recognized or documented as having anything to do with heat.
In addition to the impacts on workers and their families, heat-related injuries and illnesses have an economic cost to business and the health care system. Excessive heat increases the risk of accidents, workers compensation and hospital-related costs, and reduces productivity. Florida’s workforce is in danger. We must not wait until others have suffered or died from the ravages of heat stress. We call on our lawmakers to enact basic workplace protections against heat – including access to water, rest, and shade – for workers across the state without delay.
Climate Change and Labor: Impacts on Health in the Workplace, United Nations Development Programme (viewed on Oct. 15, 2018), https://bit.ly/2dGd79p; Sidney Shapiro & Katherine Tracy, Public Law and Climate Disasters
Occupational Health and Safety Law (Rosemary Lyster et al. eds., 1st ed., Edward Elgar Pub, 2018), https://amzn.to/2QTBWxJ; U.S. Global Change Research Program, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (Nov. 2018), https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/; John P. Dunne et al., Reductions in Labour Capacity from Health
Stress under Climate Change, 1 NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE 563 (2013), https://bit.ly/2NMiC3w.
Public Citizen and Farmworker Association of Florida, Unworkable: Dangerous Heat Puts Florida Farmworkers at Risk (Oct. 2018), https://bit.ly/2yPdIOH