Workers and Heat, a Warning

A law in Florida that would prevent support for workers who work in hot weather has left the state’s communities wondering what the risks are and how to protect themselves. Here are some answers

By Carlos Roa

The enactment of a law in Florida that prevents municipalities or counties from establishing measures for workers who work in the state’s intense heat has raised questions in communities about the risks faced by those who work outdoors in hot conditions.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are currently about 2 million outdoor workers in Florida, representing approximately 23 percent of the state’s total workforce. All of them would be affected by HB 433, which will go into effect in July of this year.

At the same time, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more than 2.4 billion workers, out of a global workforce of 3.4 billion, may be exposed to excessive heat at some point in their work. This means that climate change exposes 70.9% of the world’s workers to serious risks.

This leads to two key questions: what are the risks and what can we do?

Warning Signs

According to the government office Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the worker and his or her employer should be forewarned in any of these situations:

  • High temperature and humidity, direct sun exposure, no breeze or wind.
  • Heavy physical work
  • No recent exposure to hot workplaces
  • Low fluid intake
  • Waterproof clothing

Symptoms of heat exhaustion warrant immediate action and may include headache, dizziness or fainting, weakness and clammy skin, irritability or confusion, thirst, nausea, or vomiting.

During heat stress, the worker may become confused, unable to think clearly, faint or have convulsions (seizures). He or she may also stop sweating.

Measures To Be Taken

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, among other measures:

  • Prevent heat illness with progressive acclimatization.
  • Drink plenty of water, and do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
  • Use and reapply sunscreen.
  • Ask to schedule tasks to avoid the midday heat.
  • Wear head protection and loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.
  • Encourage workers to take breaks to cool off and drink water.

Given the risk of climate change to occupational health, it is suggested that labor laws be updated to include heat protection measures, promote safety awareness, invest in cooling technologies, adopt sustainable work practices, and foster international collaboration.

These actions would mitigate the effects of heat in the workplace, reducing workers’ exposure to extremes of temperature and pollution, thereby reducing the number of illnesses and deaths, as well as protecting overall economic productivity.

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