Climate & Comp: DeSantis Signs Bill Prohibiting Cities from Enacting Workplace Heat Protections

23 Apr, 2024 Liz Carey

                               

Tallahassee, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – On April 18, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that would prohibit municipalities in that state from implementing strict workplace heat protections.

The law, H.B. 433, will prevent local governments from establishing, or requiring employers to establish, heat protections that are not otherwise required by state or federal law. The law comes at a time when states and municipalities are scrambling to pass worker protections from climate change-related heat.

Between 2011 and 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said, an estimated 436 work-related deaths due to environmental heat exposure were recorded. Officials expected to see more heat-related workplace death as record-shattering heat become more common.

The bill DeSantis signed would limit the powers of a local government to require heat and water breaks for outdoor workers. It was a direct response, DeSantis said, to Miami-Dade County’s effort to require shade and water for outdoor workers, such as construction and farm workers.

Officials estimate that more than 325,000 workers in Miami-Dade County work in the construction and farming industries. Critics of the bill called it an attack on workers.

“Florida is known as the Sunshine State — and the governor just signed a law to ensure the outdoor workers can’t escape the sun,” Torres said in a written statement. “Outdoor workers are all around us — working on construction sites, repairing and paving roads, picking fruit and vegetables on farms, and more. They’re just trying to make a living for their families — and instead of putting protections in place to ensure businesses are prioritizing their workers’ health and well-being from record-setting temperatures, we tied the hands of proactive local governments to do so.”

DeSantis said the bill was an issue raised by Miami-Dade County lawmakers.

“It really wasn’t anything that was coming from me. There was a lot of concern out of one county — Miami-Dade,” DeSantis said. “They were pursuing what was going to cause a lot of problems down there.”

Worker protections affected under the ban include employee monitoring, water consumption, cooling measures, acclimation and recovery periods or practices, informational notice posting, heat exposure training, first-aid measures, and reporting and recordkeeping requirements. The law is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

The bill follows similar measures in Texas last year.

In June of last year, as temperatures were soaring past the 100 degree mark, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott signed a bill that prohibited municipal officials from implementing worker protections from the heat. Republicans introduced the bill on the grounds that “progressive municipal officials and agencies have made Texas small businesses jump through contradictory and confusing hoops.”

The move garnered national attention, earning the moniker the “Death Star” bill from the White House, and criticism from President Joe Biden.

“The idea that you can’t have mandatory water breaks when you’re working on a construction? I mean, what are we doing here?” Biden said during a White House event last summer in response to the bill.

Austin and Dallas were the only cities in Texas where those heat-related protections existed. Those ordinances required 10-minute breaks ever four hours for construction workers outside on sites.

Just before the bill was signed, in Lakewood, Texas, Eugene Gates, 66, a postal worker, died from what his wife said was heat-related exposure. Gates had been working on his usual route when a resident noticed that he had passed out on his lawn. The resident administered CPR until first responders arrived.

Gates was taken to a hospital where he later died. Officials determined in September that Gates died of the heat and heart disease. When Gates arrived at the hospital, his internal body temperature was 104.6. The high temperature in Dallas that day was 98 degrees, with a heat index of 115, according to the National Weather Service.

A photo taken by the president of the branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers that represented Gates, shows that two days prior to Gates’ death, a thermometer measured the temperature inside another USPS truck in the Dallas area was almost 140 degrees.

Not long after Abbott signed the bill, a 35-year-old lineman, Justin Cory Foster, was working to restore power in Marshall, Texas after storms took out electricity lines. Foster died after exhibiting signs and symptoms of heat illness. The heat index that day was 100. Officials said Foster had been working with his crew in the heat on June 20 and told other crew members he wasn’t feeling well when they returned to their hotel. He received medical attention and a shower to cool down, but later other crew members found him collapsed on the floor of his hotel. His death was determined to be heat-related.

Also in June in Bexar County, Texas, the mother of Gabriel Infante, a 24-year-old construction worker, sued his employer, B Comm Constructors, for creating “an extreme degree of risk” for workers.

In June 2022, Gabriel Infante, was reportedly dazed and sweating on a job site installing fiber optic cables in San Antonio. It was his fifth day on the job and the temperatures were over 100 degrees. Late in the afternoon, he lunged at another coworker in a fit of delirium, alleging that his coworkers were going to kill him, then fell and hit his head. His supervisor demanded someone call the police and that he be drug tested – even after EMTs arrived and said he was showing signs of heat stroke.

Infante later died in the hospital. His mother alleges in her lawsuit that B Comm Constructors lacked first aid procedures, failed to provide shaded rest areas and did not change work hours to adapt for the heat.

“All of these deaths are preventable,” Kristie Ebi, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, told the Guardian.

Officials said Infante’s internal body temperature was nearly 110F. Heatstroke can occur when the body reaches temperatures above 103F.

“If somebody had been paying attention, if they’d had the proper precautions on the construction site, he would have had water, he would have had access to shade, he would have taken a break. His core body temperature wouldn’t have gotten so high and he wouldn’t have died,” Ebi said.

In other states – California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington – regulations exist to protect outdoor workers from extreme heat. At least five states – Nevada, Maryland, Texas, New York and Massachusetts - have legislation under development, as of November of last year. However, there is no federal law that guarantees water breaks, rest or shade. In 2021, the Biden Administration ordered OSHA to produce heat safety standards, but they have not yet been issues. Officials said it could take up to 10 years for OSHA to finalize those rules and standards.

In Texas, Houston and San Antonio sued the state of Texas over the Death Star law, arguing that the legislation would limit cities autonomy and exemplified state overreach. That lawsuit is still pending.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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