This summer, the nation has been experiencing record heat from coast to coast and Miami-Dade officials have recognized how hazardous the high temperatures are for outdoor workers. However, their proposed solution could, in many ways, do more harm than good.
On July 18, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted 11-0 for initial approval of new heat standards that could help protect approximately 80,000 outdoor agriculture and construction workers in the region. However, before the proposal becomes law, a community health committee must review the standards, which must then pass a final vote by the commission.
Details of the Standards
If passed, the ordinance would require Miami-Dade County employers – on days when the heat index reaches 90 degrees – to provide their workers with water and a shaded 10-minute break every two hours. In addition, employers would be required to train workers and supervisors about heat safety. Any employers that repeatedly fail to meet these requirements could incur fines as high as $3,000 per violation per day.
Stated Reasons for the Ordinance
In Miami-Dade County, more than 300,000 people are outdoor workers, which puts them at high risk of becoming ill or dying from heat-related conditions. According to data cited in the bill, heat kills an average of 34 people annually and hospitalizes hundreds more in Miami-Dade. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of weather-related U.S. deaths is extreme heat and Florida leads the nation in heat-related hospitalizations.
The proposed standard would apply only to workers in agriculture and construction. In South Florida this year, at least two agricultural workers have died from heat-related issues. This movement to offer protections to outdoor workers gained strength after a 29-year-old agriculture worker died on July 6, recorded as the hottest day on earth since 1979.
Heat Standards in Other States
Nationwide, only five states have heat standards for all outdoor workers. These are in place in California, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. In Colorado, there are protections only for agricultural laborers. At present, there is no specific federal heat standard for outdoor workers.
Support and Opposition
Dozens of labor activists and workers attended the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting and offered support for the proposed standards. Commissioner Kionne McGhee, one of the bill’s sponsors, talked about his experiences working as a bean picker in his youth.
“One death in the hot sun is one too many,” McGhee explained. “Give these people what they need, something I didn’t have growing up and that is simply water, sun protection, shade.”
An advocacy group called WeCount! represents outdoor workers in South Florida. Through its Que Calor campaign, they are trying to achieve a workplace heat standard since 2021.
However, the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association (FRSA), while appreciating the heat-related concerns, sent a letter to the Miami-Dade Board of Country Commissioners, outlining its opposition to the proposal. FRSA explained that “Florida is under federal OSHA jurisdiction and follows OSHA’s federal guidelines set forth by the agency. In doing so, Florida joins 23 other states that follow OSHA’s standards and guidelines, which not only protects Florida’s workers, but also protects its economy by ensuring that Florida’s market is competitive and robust. The adoption of alternative ordinances inserts needless complications into the regulatory landscape of construction.”
The FRSA letter went on to state that OSHA is in the process of creating a heat-related rule designated “Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.” In June 2023, OSHA began soliciting input from industry experts, with various construction associations and stakeholders participating in panels and supporting specific heat standards that protect workers. The standards that Miami-Dade is proposing are more stringent than OSHA’s and are ill-timed. Adopting their own heat ordinance as OSHA works to finalize a national standard “will prevent statewide consistency, stifle the economy and, ultimately, harm Miami-Dade’s contractors and workers,” stated Cotney. In fact, the proposed Miami-Dade rule would be “detrimental to the industries it is aimed at protecting” for the following reasons:
The county would need to enforce the new rule, which would require investing in and developing a dedicated office for oversight, a responsibility currently governed by OSHA.
The proposed heat protection parameters have not been sufficiently evaluated, can potentially be highly disruptive and could conflict with the anticipated OSHA standards.
The processes and penalties set forth in the proposed rule go beyond protecting workers from heat-related illness and instead will penalize employers with excessive civil fines and threats of contractor debarment.
It is unclear if the commission will support the bill since similar measures have failed in the past. In addition, Governor DeSantis or other lawmakers could block the ordinance if it is adopted.
The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.
Trent Cotney is a partner and Construction Practice Group Leader at the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP and FRSA General Counsel. For more information, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-227-5501.