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Farmworkers push back on Florida Legislature's Heat Preemption Bill

SB 1492 preempts local governments from passing even the most basic workplace protections


Farmworkers got scorched yesterday by the passage of SB 1492, a bill that preempts local governments from passing even the most basic workplace protections for outdoor workers to protect themselves from Florida’s increasingly hot temperatures and high humidity. By contrast, the legislators did not even give a committee hearing for SB 762/HB 945, a worker heat stress protection bill that farmworkers’ have been advocating on behalf of for years.

This is in spite of the fact that farmworkers from the Farmworker Association of Florida were in Tallahassee almost every week during the Legislative Session to share their personal stories of experiences working in extremely hot conditions, including in enclosed greenhouses with little, if any, air circulation, during the middle of summer when ambient temperatures could easily exceed 100 degrees.

Heat has been the number one weather-related killer in the US in the past 30 years, and last year was the hottest on record in the state of Florida. Climate change promises more frequent days of extreme heat and humidity, putting workers’ health and lives at serious risk. Workers who spend their lives contributing to society with important and necessary work, such as building our homes, harvesting our food, fixing our roads, landscaping our yards, and providing us with electricity, are exposed to increasingly unsafe working conditions. During a time when measures should be taken to help protect the health and safety of working Floridians, the Florida State Legislature has failed and responded by passing a bill that pre-empts any local heat stress regulations for workers.

“They called us “essential workers” during COVID, but if we are “essential,” why do they not care enough about us to protect us from the heat?” said Estela (last name withheld to protect her identity). “We do the work no one else wants to do, but we do the work that feeds and keeps you healthy. Our health matters, too.”

On the last day of the session, the Florida State Legislature passed SB1492/HB 433, which takes away the city's and counties' authority to protect their workers and prohibits them from adopting local ordinances for heat stress. The bill also distressingly includes specific rules against requiring employers to post important and basic information that employees need to be able to protect themselves.

Heat stress regulations are necessary to protect all outdoor workers. A report from 2018 found that outdoor workers between the months of May and September in every Florida county were exposed to heat levels above the recommended threshold identified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety. Regulations are especially important for farmworkers who die from heat-related causes, roughly 20x the rate of workers in all other civilian professions, and due to agricultural exceptionalism, have even fewer protections than other workers as they are excluded from the 1930s labor laws. Farmworkers often wear many layers of clothing to protect themselves from the sun and pesticide exposure, increasing the experienced temperature from 12-37 degrees Fahrenheit. The rigorous working conditions – or “exertional heat” - further increase workers’ core body temperatures.

Research from the Girasoles study by the Farmworker Association of Florida with Emory University found that four in five workers had core body temperatures that exceeded 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on at least one of the study days. They also found that workers experienced acute kidney injury stage 1 or higher on at least one of the study days and that “the likelihood of a worker developing acute kidney injury during a workday increased by nearly 50 percent for each 5-degree F increase in heat index.”

The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), along with other advocates, have fought for heat stress protections at the state level for the past 6 out of 7 years, including FWAF making seven trips to Tallahassee this year alone, taking time to speak with legislatures on the dangers of heat stress and encouraging them to take up SB762/HB 945. In contrast, this heat stress protective bill would provide uniform, state-wide protections for outdoor workers and require education and training for employers and employees on response to heat stress. It also requires basic, life-saving measures, like regular breaks and access to cool and clean drinking water and shade. This bill has never made it to the full floor for a vote, despite the legislature unanimously acknowledging the dangers of heat stress for student-athletes and passing statewide regulations to protect the students.

Currently, no federal standards exist that protect workers from heat. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is in the process of creating federal regulations for workers, but this process could take as many as 8 years. Even if OSHA regulations are passed, enforcement still remains an issue, as has been illustrated by the enforcement of nationwide pesticide regulations. State Legislatures have been defaulting to the OSHA worker protections under the General Duty Clause, which “requires employers to furnish a workplace which is free from recognized hazards which may cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” However, this has done little to protect workers in
regard to heat, as at least two farmworkers lost their lives last year in the State of Florida due to heat illness, and many more are hospitalized or develop acute or long-term health problems.

It makes no sense that Florida lawmakers not only cannot pass the most basic protections to keep workers safe from extreme heat, but they have gone out of their way to bar cities and counties from doing what’s necessary to protect working Floridians from heat stress, heat stroke, and death. As the days get hotter, Legislative Session 2025 will give lawmakers another opportunity to take up heat protection measures in the state of Florida and help prevent further illness and death. The Farmworker Association needs support from allies in this effort!

The hardworking outdoor workers of Florida deserve no less!

Farmworkers, Florida Farmworkers Association, Florida Legislature, Florida, Heat, Workplace Safety


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