Federal Heat Protections for Farm Workers
Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries have killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000. Farm workers and construction workers suffer from the highest rates of heat illness, but workers in many other industries like warehouse workers, are at risk as well. Average temperatures are rising annually and it is likely that more heat stress-related deaths and injuries will occur if we do not address this problem. Heat-related illnesses can cause heat cramps, organ damage, heat exhaustion, stroke, and death. There is no federal heat standard that ensures the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. California, Minnesota, and Washington, as well as the U.S. military, have already adopted their own heat stress standards successfully. A number of these measures are common-sense precautions like ensuring that workers who are in high heat environments have paid breaks in cool environments, access to water for proper hydration, and limitations on how long workers can be in high heat areas.
In 2005, the UFW, working with representative Chu —at the time a member of the California State Assembly— convinced Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue the first comprehensive standards in the nation protecting California farm and other outdoor workers from the heat. Later in 2015, we worked with Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to strengthen these rules and their enforcement and renamed the state’s heat standards the Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez Heat Illness Prevention Regulation. Those standards have saved countless lives and now must be taken nationwide. California’s strengthened rules require that:
- Employees are provided with fresh and cool water and that it's located close to where employees are working.
- Shade is present at 80 degrees (an improvement from 85 degrees) and accommodates all employees on recovery or rest periods, and those onsite taking meal periods.
- High-heat procedures are triggered at 95 degrees and ensure observation and monitoring of employees.
- Training to identify and prevent heat illness
Moreover, the regulations established a system in which farm workers can confidentially report heat violations to the UFW Foundation without fear of employer retaliation, and an accountability system for the state agency, Cal OSHA, to respond to these complaints in a timely manner and do a thorough investigation. While the road to implementation and enforcement of the California standard has not been an easy one, when implementation and enforcement have occurred, the standard has secured meaningful improvements for farm workers and resulted in a notable reduction in the number of farm worker deaths related to heat hazards. As temperatures continue soaring, farm workers and all outdoor and indoor workers across this nation deserve to be protected from the dangers of heat. Immediate action is needed to stop unnecessary deaths by creating national heat rules such as those we won in California that clearly define workers’ rights to have access to water, shade, rest breaks, and training. California is a prime example that implementing common sense heat illness protections is good for workers, employers, and for our food system.
Report a heat violation by calling Cal/OSHA toll-free at 1-877-99-CALOR (1-877-992-2567)
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