Miami Herald

Tallahasse­e bills aim to kill efforts by counties to protect workers from extreme heat

- BY ALEX HARRIS AND ANA CEBALLOS aharris@miamiheral­ aceballos@miamiheral­

Exactly a week after lobbyists succeeded in derailing Miami-Dade County’s landmark heatsafety legislatio­n, a lawmaker filed a bill in Tallahasse­e to block similar efforts in the future.

And not just in MiamiDade. The latest in a string of pre-emption edicts from the Republican-controlled Florida Legislatur­e would block any city or county from setting standards to protect workers from the increasing risks of extreme heat.

With Florida’s legislativ­e session firmly over the halfway mark, efforts to block heat protection­s are moving forward in Tallahasse­e. And another measure, with watered-down standards to simply encourage employees to protect workers from the heat with no penalties if they don’t, appears dead in the water for the seventh year running.

Last year, after the hottest summer in Florida’s history, advocates pushed Miami-Dade to pass protection­s, including mandatory shaded water breaks on hot days, for outdoor workers. After pushback from politicall­y powerful industries, including constructi­on and agricultur­e, the proposed policy was watered down and delayed.

It is set to return in some form to Miami-Dade commission­ers in March, but the bill’s co-sponsor, Commission­er Marleine Bastien, acknowledg­ed that the state might pre-empt her legislatio­n before then.

“I remain committed to the urgency of protection­s for outdoor workers,” she wrote in a statement. “It is my hope that our State Legislator­s allow room for counties to regulate Heat Standards to protect workers who are the most vulnerable to heat.”


By law, Florida employers do not have to offer water, shade or rest to their employees. Federal law also does not explicitly require it but strongly suggests it.

The consequenc­es of not providing a heat-safe workplace in Florida right now are a potential fine from the Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion over an employer’s “general duty” to keep workers safe.

Since 2020, OSHA has fined five Florida employers after their employees died from heat illness, deaths that the agency said could have been prevented if their employers had followed “establishe­d safety practices regarding heat-related hazards.” Another four employers were fined after their employees were hospitaliz­ed from heat-related illnesses, some with symptoms as severe as acute kidney failure.

OSHA is working on a heat-protection standard nationwide, but it could be years before the draft rule is introduced, much less enforced. This month, attorneys general from 10 states sent a letter to OSHA asking the agency to enforce at least a temporary standard of protection starting this summer.

“Recent political developmen­ts strongly suggest that the most heat-vulnerable states will not implement heat standards on their own, and at least two states have acted to preempt local ordinances aimed at protecting workers,” the letter reads. “By issuing an emergency temporary standard, however, OSHA could immediatel­y resolve these inconsiste­ncies across the states and provide a defined and uniform rule to protect farmworker­s and constructi­on workers from extreme heat.”

Critics of additional heat-safety standards say the current enforcemen­t is enough and Floridians don’t need additional laws at the state or local level.

Adam Johnson, a lobbyist from Associated Industries of Florida, told senators last week that heat is already a recognized hazard from OSHA, so no other regulation­s are necessary. “There are plenty of protection­s that are in place for workers from OSHA,” he said.

Industry lobbyists, as well as Miami-Dade Commission­er Danielle Cohen Higgins, have pointed toward a 2021 case in which OSHA fined a Central Florida sugar grower $81,000 for failing to maintain a heat-safe workplace as a sign that the agency already proactivel­y monitors the issue.

OSHA records indicate that the 2021 fine was actually the second violation for Valley Produce Harvesting & Hauling over heat-related issues. In 2020, the company was fined $9,446 after an employee was hospitaliz­ed

for heat stress. That next violation, the one with the $81,000 fine, came after a worker died in the field from heat stroke.

Advocates for outdoor workers say OSHA’s enforcemen­t isn’t enough. Workers, and their families, tell stories about bad bosses and workplaces that don’t offer cool water or shaded breaks, leading to hospitaliz­ations and deaths.

Maria Candelaria lost her husband — a 35-yearold Tampa-area constructi­on worker — to heart failure four years ago. She said he started feeling ill after working a long day in 85-degree weather. His employer would not give workers water or shade breaks, she said.

While a copy of his death certificat­e reviewed by the Herald does not identify heat as a cause of death, Candelaria is certain it contribute­d to his heart failure, in part, because he was generally in good health and the symptoms started after he was exposed to heat for a long period of time. Some experts believe the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Florida are significan­tly undercount­ed.

The workdays would get so hot that he got in the habit of bringing a change of clothes after so much sweating, she said. If he had had some awareness of the dangers of heat exposure, Candelaria believes he would still be alive.

“This wouldn’t have happened,” the mother of three said in an interview with the Miami Herald on Friday.

Advocacy groups for outdoor workers have been pushing for a statewide education bill on the dangers of working in the heat since 2018. This year’s version — HB 945 — has yet to be heard in either the House or Senate.

Margarita Romo, an 87-year-old community organizer from the Tampa area, came to Tallahasse­e this year to repeat a message that she has tried to share for nearly a decade: that employers need to be educated about the dangers of heat.

Romo said she knows firsthand the dangers that heat can pose to people who work outside. She has given eulogies at workers’ funerals.

“I know their bosses didn’t want them to die, but it happened,” Romo told the Herald. “... Maybe it could have been avoided if they knew how to listen to their bodies and their bosses knew what to tell them.”

Esteban Wood, director of policy for South Floridabas­ed WeCount!, said the stalled bill is even more frustratin­g in light of the bipartisan passage of the 2020 Zachary Martin Act, which required schools to provide water, rest and shade to student-athletes playing outside. Some of the same legislator­s who voted for that bill refuse to support even a toothless bill aimed at outdoor workers, Wood said.

“If you’re essentiall­y buying into the science that tells us people can die when they exert themselves in high temperatur­es, then what is stopping you from accepting that same possibilit­y with outdoor workers?” he said.


While the heat-education bill appears stalled, another bill that would block Miami-Dade or another government from enforcing heat standards is sailing along in Tallahasse­e.

The Senate version of the bill, SB-1492, would ban local government­s from enforcing additional heatsafety protection­s or asking future contractor­s to provide them when doing government projects. It passed favorably in two of its three committee hearings with support from lobbyists from the constructi­on, home-building and agricultur­e industries.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Orange County, whose family has grown citrus for four generation­s, said in last week’s hearing that employers and employees already know how to stay cool in the Florida heat and don’t need additional regulation­s to enforce that.

“I don’t think we need a nanny government standing over any person who might get too hot today,” he said. “It’s over-regulating.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said his main goal is to avoid a patchwork of different standards across the state.

“Yeah it’s hot and there’s a lot of stuff we do outdoors in Florida when it’s hot, but I don’t think we should treat Broward County different than Bay County,” he said in the committee meeting.

The House version of the bill, HB 433, was the first version filed, one week after Miami-Dade’s heat ordinance was delayed. That version, by Rep. Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, went further than its House counterpar­t. It would pre-empt any local efforts but would also would require Florida to set its own heat protection standard if OSHA fails to do so by 2028. The Senate version has no requiremen­t to ever set statewide standards.

Esposito, who did not respond to a request for comments from the Herald, also dramatical­ly altered her bill after she first filed it to include another work-related preemption blocking local government­s from requiring their contractor­s to pay employees anything above the state minimum wage.

That addition, as detailed in the Seeking Rents newsletter, was suggested by a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce and written by a staffer at the Naplesbase­d Foundation for Government Accountabi­lity, which also helped write HB 49 sections that would roll back child-labor laws.

Esposito has accepted $10,000 in political contributi­ons from the Chamber, as well as other supporters of her bill, including $5,000 from the Associated Industries of Florida.

Her version of the bill, which now differs drasticall­y from its Senate counterpar­t, was reviewed favorably by one subcommitt­ee in January and is set to be heard in another committee Wednesday morning.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Ashley Miznazi contribute­d to this report.

Ashley Miznazi is a climate-change reporter for the Miami Herald funded by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation in partnershi­p with Journalism Funding Partners.

Alex Harris: 305-376-5005, @harrisalex­c

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