Padilla, Brown, Cortez Masto Announce Heat Stress Legislation To Protect Farm Workers

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) announced the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act to protect the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. The bill is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia, a California farm worker 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.

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are also cosponsoring the legislation, while Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is leading companion legislation in the House of Representative with Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Alma Adams (D-N.C.).

“Workers in California and across the country are too often exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. In the past year, Californians have faced extreme heat temperatures from wildfires, while trying to navigate the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic – risking the health and safety of our workers,” said Senator Padilla. “This vital legislation will hold employers accountable and ensure workplace protections are put in place to prevent further heat stress illnesses and deaths from happening.”

“Protecting workers from heat stress is essential, particularly as global temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather conditions become more common,” said Senator Brown. “Every worker deserves a safe work environment, and this legislation is an important step toward creating national standards and protections that will keep workers safe on the job as the risks of heat stress increase.”

“Every worker deserves the right to a safe workplace free of harm and risk to their health, and it’s our job to make sure they are protected,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Whether it’s in the kitchen or on a farm, heat-related illness is a severe and dangerous condition, and this bill would help keep workers safe regardless of their occupation. With rising temperatures, there is no time to delay action, and I’ll continue working with my colleagues to prioritize the health and safety of our workers and get this done.”

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. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last seven years have been the hottest on record. 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 Illness and Fatality Prevention Act will protect workers against occupational exposure to excessive heat by: 

  • Requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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 
  • 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 Illness and Fatality Prevention Act has the support of a broad coalition of groups including: United Farm Workers of America, United Farm Worker Foundation, Public Citizen, Farmworker Justice, AFL-CIO, American Public Health Association, Earthjustice, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Migrant Clinicians Network, Migrant Legal Action Program, National Employment Law Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, SEIU, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, UNITE HERE!, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, and Workers Defense Project, United Steelworkers (USW), Communication Workers of America, and the United Auto Workers.

Bill text is available HERE.

A fact sheet on the bill is available HERE. 

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