FL Heat Protection Ordinance Moves Forward
Last week, the Miami-Dade County Health Committee in Florida passed a heat standard for outdoor workers, moving the bill one step forward to potentially becoming law.
The ordinance will now go to vote at the County Board Meeting in October, where it will reportedly be tweaked before potentially meeting final approval.
According to the Miami Herald, if passed in its current form, the bill would require construction and agriculture companies with five or more employees to guarantee workers access to water and give them 10-minute breaks in the shade every two hours on days when the heat index hits 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
It would also reportedly require employers to train workers to recognize the signs of heat illness, administer first aid and call for help in an emergency. Companies that repeatedly fail to follow the standards could face fines up to $3,000 per violation per day.
“We’re workers who have suffered cramps, chills, vomiting, dizziness, fainting and put our lives at risk,” said Pedro Marcos Raymundo, a construction worker, roofer and member of WeCount, an advocacy group that organizes outdoor workers in South Florida.
“Workers like me deserve water, shade and rest and we need to be trained on the symptoms of heat illness. Our lives can’t be at risk to make the owners rich.”
However, the bill has not been met without opposition. Commissioner Kione McGhee, the standard’s main sponsor, warned that some in the construction and agriculture industries would want to know who would be responsible for paying the fines.
“What I heard at this moment is that all sides — all sides — need a little more time to craft out this piece of legislation. They are very close. They’re 95% of the way there. And I do believe that we are going to get there,” said McGhee.
“Whatever version they bring back, it better have protection for heat. It better have water. It better have shade. And it better have liability and also enforcement.”
At the committee hearing last Monday (Sept. 11), 48 workers, nurses, doctors, religious leaders, students and community activists reportedly spoke in favor of the bill. However, 12 representatives from construction and agricultural industry groups asked the committee to delay or reject the measuring, arguing that the bill is unnecessary.
“This ordinance would create a Miami-Dade County version of OSHA,” said Grant Archer, director of government affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast chapter. “This ordinance is duplicative. OSHA already regulates the construction and agriculture industry regarding water, rest and shade.”
The Herald reports, however, that the agency does not have specific, enforceable rules about workplace heat safety—only recommendations and broad terms to provide a safe work environment.
McGhee said industry representatives wanted to adjust the bill so that its requirements kicked in when the temperature, not the heat index, hit 90 F. Additionally, industry groups also wanted to clarify who is liable for paying fines if there are multiple contractors and subcontractors on a job site.
Construction and agriculture lobbyists reportedly complained that their industries are unfairly singled out in the bill, when there are thousands of outdoor workers in the county in other industries not covered by the bill.
Recent OSHA Heat Standard Proposal
Earlier this year, in June, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration urged small business owners and local government representatives to discuss the potential impacts of a workplace heat standard on small businesses.
According to the release, OSHA is developing a potential standard for workplaces—in which the agency has jurisdiction—to prevent heat illness and injury in outdoor and indoor environments in general industry and in the construction, maritime and agriculture industries. As part of the process, OSHA is holding Small Business Advocacy Review Panel meetings this summer to gather views on the potential effects of a heat standard on small businesses.
The meetings will be held in teleconferences where small businesses can share concerns and discuss current practices for protecting their employees from heat-related illnesses and injuries. The panel is also seeking input on how new heat regulations might impact their workplace operations or local business communities.
OSHA also noted that it has already taken several actions apart from the rulemaking to protect workers from the dangers of excess heat in the workplace. This includes:
In September 2021, OSHA announced plans to better combat hazards associated with extreme heat exposure—both indoors and outdoors—through newly enhanced, expanded measures to protect workers.
The launch of a National Emphasis Program to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries was announced in April last year. Reported to be the first of its kind, the new enforcement program will ensure that OSHA conducts heat-related workplace inspections in an effort to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
The press release issued by the DOL went on to explain that as the National Emphasis Program works to immediately improve enforcement and compliance efforts, there are ongoing efforts to establish a heat illness prevention rule.
These actions arrived as historically high temperatures broke records this summer, exposing millions of people to serious dangers of heat in the workplace. A heat hazard alert was issued by OSHA at the end of July, which included the following:
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 436 people have died due to workplace heat exposure since 2011, with an annual average of 38 deaths between 2011 to 2019. An average of 2,700 cases involving heat illnesses lead to days lost at work, which OSHA says puts an additional economic burden on workers and employers.