Florida legislature plans to pass first law protecting outdoor workers from heat exposure

Farm Workers Face Heat Exposure in Agriculture Field — Courtesy: Shutterstock — AFZAL KHAN MAHEEN

We rarely take time to think about those who built the roof over our heads and picked the fresh produce we enjoy at the table.

Field workers work hard in Florida’s unbearable heat to provide us with our most basic needs of food and shelter.

Yet, in the Sunshine State, not one law protects these workers from heat.

In a matter of weeks, Florida’s legislature could make changes to one bill in the House and Senate. The Senate bill would provide extensive heat protection for outdoor workers and has the support of both the Democrat and Republican parties.

“It also has no penalties. It has no penalty if you don’t comply. It is truly about awareness and education and making people aware that outside workers need these protections right now,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, General Coordinator of the Farmworkers Association of Florida.

Maria Pineda once worked eight-hour days beneath the grueling sun trimming ferns near Lake Apopka when she first arrived from El Salvador at the age of 24.

She described cramping in her legs, along with aching pains in her back, head, and entire body. Dehydration was also a contributing factor. As the subject of several academic studies that examine how heat impacts the physical and emotional wellbeing of field workers, Pineda learned that the long hours she spent working under these harsh weather conditions meant her body temperature never cooled down, not even at night.

Oddly enough, for farm workers who work under tents, conditions are worse. Pineda stated how the humidity within these tents affects breathing patterns, making several workers short of breath.

Besides dark sunspots that have appeared across her face, Pineda is one of the more fortunate ones. She has not suffered from any long-term effects.

According to the American Farmworkers of Florida, at least two outdoor workers die every year due to heat exposure.

The bills in question ask that workers be provided with constant hydration and adequate education on heat-related illnesses with no penalty or risk to the one providing the job. 

The bill has already passed one committee in the Florida legislature but is still required to pass two more committees. After that, it must pass in the houses before it can be voted on.

“If we don’t, who is going to do it,” said Xiuhtecutli when asked why it is important to help outdoor workers. “Also, it becomes a matter of public health. Long-term exposure to heat really has long-term consequences.”

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