WASHINGTON—Asunción Valdivia was only 53 years old when he died of heat stroke after working a 10-hour shift picking grapes in 105-degree temperatures. Today, members of Congress introduced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, legislation that aims to keep workers safe as temperatures rise due to climate change.
Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths, yet the United States currently has no national heat stress standards in place to protect workers during extremely hot days. Likewise, only three states—California, Minnesota and Washington—have issued some form of heat-related protections for workers. Although extreme heat affects a wide range of occupations, construction workers are considered among those most at risk, as are farmworkers, who also face toxic pesticide exposure on the job. Additionally, Black and Latinx workers are represented at greater rates in outdoor occupations, which places them disproportionately at risk.
This legislation would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a standard aimed at reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities due to excessive heat. Safety measures highlighted in this bill include regular paid breaks in cool or shaded environments, access to water, emergency response protocols for employees suffering from heat illness, proper training for employers and employees on heat stress illness and prevention, and access to protective clothing.
Dr. Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist at UCS: “Extreme heat has already proven deadly for workers in the United States, a toll that will only grow as climate change makes hot days more frequent and intense in the years ahead. Our research shows that by midcentury more than 250 sizable U.S. cities could experience the equivalent of a month or more per year on average when the ‘feels like’ temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We hope this legislation, coupled with policies to reduce heat-trapping emissions, will fill this wide gap in workplace safety that has existed for far too long.”
Dr. Rafter Ferguson, scientist in the Food and Environment Program at UCS: “Farmworkers die of heat-related causes at roughly 20 times the rate of workers in all other civilian occupations, and the danger of extreme heat is compounded by routine pesticide exposures. It’s a deadly cycle: heat stress makes farmworkers more susceptible to injury from toxic pesticides, while the protective clothing they must wear increases the risk of heat illness. Moreover, climate change is amplifying the risks by supercharging many insect pests and weeds, which will likely drive increased pesticide use and further endanger the people who put food on our tables. Farmworkers deserve better, and this legislation is a vital step toward protecting them.”
For more information on how global warming emissions will exacerbate extreme heat in the United States and negatively impact farm workers, check out the UCS reports “Killer Heat in the United States” and “Farmworkers at Risk: The Growing Dangers of Pesticides and Heat.”