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Patchwork of Heat Protection Rules Leave Workers at Risk as Summer Nears

While five states have moved to protect workers, some of the hottest states in the country have undermined protections according to new report from Public Citizen

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the vacuum created by Congress’ and President Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) failure to implement a nation-wide standard or interim standard to protect workers from excessive heat in the workplace, a conflicting patchwork of state and local laws and regulations have emerged—some protecting workers from excessive heat, and others stripping life-saving worker heat protections—according to a new report from Public Citizen

Draconian laws in Texas and Florida have put workers in mortal danger, according to the report Scorched States: A Report Card on State Laws Protecting Workers from Heat.

In July of 2023 Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 2127, the sweeping “Death Star Law,” barring local governments from issuing regulations across a wide range of categories without approval from the Texas Legislature, including labor regulations. The legislation went as far as specifically preempting rules on rest breaks.

Florida put workers in further danger, enacting a law in March of 2024 prohibiting local governments from instituting basic  requirements to prevent heat stress including hydration, rest breaks, acclimatization, and any form of training for workers about the dangers of heat illness and how to prevent it. Additionally, the law prohibits requirements for employers to have the first aid and emergency response protocols necessary to save lives.

“In what is likely to be the hottest summer on record, the punitive cruelty of denying workers access to water and protection from heat by elected officials is monstrous,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “While some of the hottest states in the country undercut basic humanitarian rights for vulnerable workers, OSHA presses on through the extensive process of rulemaking, hoping no one dies while a federal heat standard waits to be enacted. But, workers are dying, and the contradictory local and state rules are only making it more difficult to protect workers.” 

Only five states have workplace heat stress rules in place – – California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Minnesota, and these rules vary in the type of industries covered, and the expectations and requirements for employers.

“With no federal workplace safety standard in place to protect workers from extreme heat, states have been left to find ways to protect their workers,” said Fulcher. “Despite the horrifying images of ever more brutal hurricanes, tornadoes and floods we frequently see in the news, extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer. The smattering of heat protection rules is inadequate — leaving the vast majority of workers in the U.S. in 45 states without any protection from dangerously high heat on the job.”

According to the report, as many as 2,000 workers die of heat stroke, kidney failure and heat-induced cardiac arrest, and 170,000 workers are injured from laboring in extreme heat every year in the United States. The symptoms of heat-related illnesses include heavy sweating, fatigue, nausea, headache, loss of balance and cognitive function, fainting, muscle cramps, and more. These symptoms can easily lead to accidents with a range of consequences to one or more people, including injuries, long-term disabilities or even fatalities. 

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