Latinos to Feel More Heat Due to Bans on Protections for Outdoor Workers


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With heat reaching record-breaking numbers every summer in some states, evidence points to our climate changing. 

For instance, Florida saw its hottest year on record since 1895 when the surface temperatures reached 177 degrees in places. Heat indices rose to triple digits multiple days in a row in Texas, making 2023 the second-hottest summer on record. 

In the wake of extreme heat, weather experts have advised people to limit their time outside when the sun is out, especially for the population’s most vulnerable people like seniors and children. 

But what about those who can’t escape the heat?  

Despite the weather, outdoor workers are braving the elements to provide a valuable service to support their families.  

Many of these workers are Latino. 

While many businesses and companies have taken it upon themselves to protect their employees from these dangerous heat conditions, not all adhere to the same protocol.  

Meanwhile, some municipalities have created regulations companies must abide by such as mandatory paid water and shade breaks. 

However, some states have ruled against these measures, banning local governments from creating and enforcing these laws, putting thousands of outdoor workers at risk. 

So far, two states have passed this ban with the latest being Florida, which is home to a large Latino population.  

Let’s break down the impact of these bans on Latino workers.  

Heat Protection Laws 

On April 11, 2024, the state of Florida became the second state in the country, after Texas, to sign legislation preventing local governments from creating regulations that protect outdoor works from extreme heat.  

The law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2024 — the beginning of what typically is the hottest month of the year — will ban guaranteed protections such as mandatory water and cooling breaks.  

The legislation also prevents county governments who were seeking these protections, including Miami-Dade, which had to withdraw their proposal as a result of the new law.  

Latino Outdoor Workers 

These bans could disproportionately impact Latino workers, who make up a large part of the agricultural, building and ground maintenance, and construction workforce in the US, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.   

In Florida, 1.8 million nonelderly adult outdoor workers, many of whom are Latino or noncitizen immigrants, could be affected by this law, according to KFF analysis. 

Source: KFF

As of 2022, Latinos make up 40% of the nonelderly adult workforce in Florida, compared with 30% of the total nonelderly adult workforce. 

Nearly twice the share of outdoor workers, compared to 22% of their share of the workforce, are noncitizen immigrants.   

What’s more, Latinos and noncitizen immigrants make up large portions of workers in outdoor industries.

Source: KFF

The most prominent industries with the largest number of Latino workers are cleaning at 44%, construction work at 49%, and farming and fishing at 66%.  

Noncitizen immigrants dominate the farming and fishing laborers at 49%, followed by 31% in cleaning and 32% construction.  

These lines of work can be labor intensive and often take workers outside to complete the job, making them more prone to heat-related conditions.  

Causes of Outdoor Worker Deaths 

In 2022, 43 on the job deaths were brought on due to extreme heat conditions, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO, which stands for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and is the largest federation of unions in the US. 

These deaths often occur when the worker isn’t acclimatized to the harsh working conditions caused by extreme heat, according to OSHA 

In fact, nearly half of heat-related deaths happen on a worker’s first day on the job and over 70% of the deaths occur during the worker’s first week, according to OSHA.  

Situations such as joining a new profession that requires the worker to brave warm environments, wear additional clothing, and engage in increased physical activity, workers returning to hot work environments following an extended absence, working during heat wave, or working through seasonal temperature changes can cause heat-related health problems. 

These dangerous conditions are just some of the many reasons workers are demanding heat-related protections. 

Heat-Related Death and Illness 

As temperatures continue to surge, the risk for heat-related illnesses such as stroke and exhaustion increases.

To prevent heat illness, it’s important to understand and recognize the symptoms.  

Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, rapid heart rate, high body temperature, and heavy sweating. Occasionally the skin will be hot to the touch.  

In cases of heat exhaustion, people can exhibit fatigue, irritability, thirst, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, heavy sweating, and elevated body temperature or fast heart rate.  

There are other forms of heat illness such as heat cramps, heat syncope, heat rash, and Rhabdomyolysis, which breaks down the muscles. 

When symptoms go left unchecked, they have been known to cause death. 

In 2023, instances of heat-related illness spiked in Texas causing the deaths of more than 300 residents, according to an article published by the Texas Tribune 

Some of these deaths were brought on from working in extreme heat, taking the lives of a Texas lineman and a postal worker. 

Need for Heat Protections 

To protect outdoor workers, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends scheduling workers for shorter amounts of time when working in the heat, providing more frequent rest breaks, and supplying workers with shaded areas.

Other protections include providing extensive training on heat stress, symptoms of heat-related illness, and the importance of rest and water, monitoring workers closely for heat-related illness symptoms, and encouraging workers to stop and seek medical attention if the exhibit any of these symptoms.  

Without mandating protections, these decisions are in the hands of the employer or worker. 

One of the biggest reasons employers may fear heat protections is the loss in revenue.  

A 2021 study estimates that by 2050 heat-related productivity losses may cost the state of Florida up to $52 billion.  

Companies and corporations aren’t the only ones in fear of losing money due to extreme heat.  

If extreme heat persists, Florida’s outdoor workers collectively stand to lose out on $8.4 billion in total annual earnings by 2065, according to another report 

Extreme heat due to climate change could result in fewer working days, shorter working hours, and loss of pay for dealing with sickness or injury resulting in a loss of wages.  

The decrease in earnings could create even larger gaps in systemic inequities, worse health outcomes, and higher poverty rates, the report stated.  

For instance, losing wages because of heat illness could delay treatment, and some may not seek care at all.  

Measure Health Equity Where You Live 

As of May 2024, there are no worker heat protections at the federal level.  

However, OSHA is working on federal level indoor and outdoor worker heat protection standards, according to KFF 

While some states have taken steps to remove protections for the health and safety of their outdoor workers, others have made progress in providing workers with heat protection.  

So far, six states, including California, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregan, have heat protections for outdoor workers. Maryland is working on its own heat protection standards.  

Check how your state and county measures up when it comes to health, safety, and climate by downloading a free Salud America! Health Equity Report Card. 

Using helpful maps, graphs, and charts in the Health Equity Report Card, you can gauge the health equity of your community on issues that could be impacted by these bans.  

This tool can be shared with friends, family members, and government leaders or used as an example to support the need for local or companywide heat protections.  


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