New Florida state law bans local heat protections for outdoor workers

A new law that just went into effect this week means state and federal law are the lay of the land – and counties and cities don’t get a say.

That’s at least when it comes to protections for people working outside.

More than 200 workers died in the United States from heat-related illness last year. It’s the leading weather-related cause of death for workers.

Under this new law, corporations can have their own rules about rest and water breaks, but cities and counties aren’t allowed to have their own regulations about those protections.

Florida has the highest population of temporary agricultural workers in the nation. We have the third-highest number of construction workers in America. Lots of people here work outdoors.

But a new law that just kicked into effect July 1st could mean fewer regulations for people who work outside.

HB 433 says cities and counties can no longer make their own rules when it comes to heat exposure requirements.

Adriana Rivera with the Florida Immigrant Coalition is worried the law could lead to more deaths.

"This law is so sad because it really puts at risk some of the most vulnerable workers that we have in our state," Rivera.

Under the law, standards to control an employee’s heat or exposure to the sun could include things like mandatory water breaks, signage warning employees about heat exposure, and even "appropriate first-aid measures or emergency responses related to heat exposure."

Local governments can’t regulate that.

They have to defer to state or federal law.

Representative Rick Roth co-authored the bill.

"We've never been in favor of local government regulating us if you're already being regulated," he said.

Rep. Roth says he’s been in the farming industry his whole life.

"I’m a little bit insulted that some government bureaucrat thinks they need to help me take care of my employees."

But not everyone is comfortable leaving things up to corporations.

"Corporations do not care about us," said Rivera.

Yesica Ramirez with the Farmworker Association of Florida agrees.

"Our hands are completely tied, our community already has many rights violations in this type of work," said Ramirez

Something else happened this week too, though.

The Biden Administration just proposed a new rule that would require employers to mitigate heat hazards.

If it passes, it kicks in once the "feels like" temperature hits 80 degrees.

When the heat index reaches 90 degrees, employers would have to provide 15-minute paid rest periods every 2 hours.

The federal rule would also give an acclimation period for workers who aren’t used to working in the heat.

Whether it passes is still an "if" though.