Legislation Will Help Protect Safety and Health of Workers Exposed to Dangerous Heat Conditions in the Workplace

Washington (July 26, 2023) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in announcing legislation to ensure the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. The senators’ bill, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act, is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia who died in 2004 after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. Mr. Valdivia fell unconscious and instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told Mr. Valdivia’s son to drive his father home. On his way home, he died of heat stroke at the age of 53. Mr. Valdivia’s death was completely preventable, yet his story is not unique.

In addition to Senators Markey, Brown, Padilla, and Cortez Masto, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are also cosponsoring the legislation, while Representative Judy Chu (D-CA-28) is leading companion legislation in the House of Representative with Representatives Bobby Scott (VA-03), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03) and Alma Adams (NC-12).

“No worker should have to endure life-threatening heat to provide for their family. This would be an important step to protect Ohio workers on the job,” said Senator Brown. “We know too many workers still work in dangerous conditions, putting their health and safety on the line every day to provide for their families. There’s not much dignity in a job where you fear for your health or your life.”

“Asunción Valdivia tragically lost his life to heatstroke picking grapes in 105-degree heat under the Central Valley sun. Nearly 20 years later, millions of Americans are facing record-breaking extreme heat conditions that put the health and safety of our workers at risk,” said Senator Padilla. “This critical legislation will hold employers accountable and ensure enforceable workplace protections are put in place to prevent workers from falling ill, collapsing on the job, or even losing their lives.”

“Extreme heat exposure is deadly and too often puts our essential workers in dangerous environments,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “As we continue to experience record-high temperatures, it’s critical we pass this bill to protect our workers.”

“I will never forget Asunción Valdivia or how his tragic death could have been avoided,” said Representative Chu. “Whether on a farm, driving a truck, or working in a warehouse, workers like Asunción keep our country running while enduring some of the most difficult conditions—often without access to water or rest. The escalating climate crisis has led to sweltering temperatures and to a distressing increase in cases of workers collapsing and even losing their lives due to excessive heat. To value our workforce and protect people’s safety and lives, this bill will establish comprehensive and enforceable federal standards addressing heat stress on the job.”

“This summer, Americans across the country are grappling with some of the hottest temperatures on record. Yet workers in this country still have no legal protection against excessive heat—one of the oldest, most serious and most common workplace hazards. Heat illness affects workers in our nation’s fields, warehouses, and factories, and climate change is making the problem more severe every year,” said Representative Scott. “This legislation will require OSHA to issue a heat standard on a much faster track than the normal OSHA regulatory process. I was proud to advance this important bill in the Education and Labor Committee last Congress, and I urge Chairwoman Foxx and Committee Republicans to do so again this Congress. Workers deserve nothing less, particularly as heat-related illnesses and deaths rise.”

“There is no longer any ambiguity around human caused climate change – in Arizona and around the country, we are experiencing record shattering heat as a direct consequence. The climate crisis has made scorching temperatures, incidents of workers collapsing and deaths all too common. We must act now and decisively to protect people,” said Representative Grijalva.The Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act is an urgent piece of legislation that requires much needed and basic labor protections, such as water and breaks, to safeguard indoor and outdoor workers from heat stress and extreme temperatures. I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this critical to build on President Biden’s executive order to address heat safety.”

“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a workplace safety standard ‘to protect the health of workers exposed to heat and hot environments.' However, most states, including the State of North Carolina, have not taken action on this. A nationwide standard is vitally important to the health and safety of workers in my state and across the country,” said Representative Adams. “OSHA must protect workers from the strain and potentially fatal effects of heat on the job.”

Earlier this week, Brown led a bicameral group of colleagues calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement a federal workplace heat standard as quickly as possible. At a time of dangerously high temperatures, Brown is pushing OSHA to implement heat standards based off of the provisions in the Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act.

Heat-related illnesses can cause heat cramps, organ damage, heat exhaustion, stroke, and even death. Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000. Climate change is making the problem worse. From 2011-2020, heat exposure killed at least 400 workers and caused nearly 34,000 injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work; both are likely vast underestimates. This year is on pace to be the hottest on record: the first week of July had the hottest days on record on Earth, following the hottest ever month of June. Farmworkers and construction workers suffer the highest incidence of heat illness. And no matter what the weather is outside, workers in factories, commercial kitchens, and other workplaces, including ones where workers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), can face dangerously high heat conditions all year round.

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act will protect workers against occupational exposure to excessive heat by:

  • Requiring the OSHA to establish an enforceable standard to protect workers in high-heat environments with measures like paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, limitations on time exposed to heat, and emergency response for workers with heat-related illness; and
  • Require an interim final rule be in place within one year of the bill’s passage; and
  • Directing employers to provide training for their employees on the risk factors that can lead to heat illness, and guidance on the proper procedures for responding to symptoms.

The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act has the support of a broad coalition of groups including: Rural Coalition, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE!, Communication Workers of America, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice, Public Citizen, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Steelworkers, and International Union, UAW, SEIU, AFSSCME.

“It’s long past time for meaningful legislation to protect Teamsters and other workers from the effects of prolonged heat exposure and dangerous heat levels while at work,” said Sean M. O’Brien, President of Teamsters General. “Paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, and limitations on time exposed to heat are simple common sense steps that should be mandated immediately. Waiting to implement these measures is unacceptable and will result in the further loss of lives.”

“UNITE HERE represents members in numerous workplaces exposed to dangerous heat levels. Environmental injustices like oppressively hot temperatures harms communities already facing enough injustices — like areas where our Union’s working class, immigrant, Black and Brown members hail, including the deep south and southwest,” said Gwen Mills, Secretary Treasurer of UNITE HERE! “Whether it’s driving a catering truck in direct sun to stock departing planes with food and water or toiling in front of commercial appliances at maximum hotness in hotel kitchens, workers in both primarily outdoor and indoor spaces face record highs. The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act is the kind of federal intervention required for protecting ourselves from an increasingly more alarming climate crisis. We commend elected leaders for leading the charge and urge the swift passage of this critical bill.”

“Blistering heat waves have blanketed large portions of the country for weeks, smashing unmerciful heat records. Extreme heat is a killer. Workers are braving the deadly conditions every day without proper protections. Some are losing their lives in an effort to provide us with food, shelter, water, electricity, air conditioning, safe roads and cars, and our every need delivered right to our doorstep.  Workers deserve basic efforts to save their lives, such as cold water to drink and rest breaks in a cool location. Guaranteeing these critical measures are put in place now is simple, obvious and absolutely essential. We thank Senators Brown, Padilla and Cortez Masto and Representatives Chu, Grijalva, Adams and Scott, as well as the dozens of Senators and Congresspersons who have joined them to cosponsor the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act of 2023,” said Juley Fulcher, Worker Health and Safety Advocate for Public Citizen.                                                           

Bill text is available HERE.