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Earth Hits Highest Temps, But There Are Limited Protections for Employees

Over the last couple of weeks, temperatures across the U.S. have hit all-time highs. Most workers have limited legal protections to survive it. While the Biden administration is trying to develop regulations to guarantee workers access to water, rest, and shade, what happens to the workers now? According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), between 2017 and 2022, 121 workers died from causes that could be directly attributed to heat. Heat illness can impact employees' decision-making and ability to react.

In Texas, lawmakers overruled ordinances enacted by Dallas and Austin intended to protect workers from heat. The Republican legislature found them too burdensome, according to the Washington Post. Extreme heat risk falls under OSHA's general duty clause, which is broad and lacks specific guidelines. Thus, it is difficult to hold employers liable under that clause. A mother in San Antonio is suing her son's Texas employer because her son Brian Infante died after working in the hot summer sun moving internet fiber optic cable. After Infante began to exhibit heatstroke symptoms — confusion, altered mental state, dizziness, and loss of consciousness — the foreman directed an employee to call the police because he thought Infante was on drugs. The temperature was over 100 degrees then, and Infante died from severe heatstroke.

States, including Washington, California, Maryland, Nevada, and Oregon, have heat standards for all outdoor workers. Colorado has laws protecting agricultural workers, and Minnesota protects indoor workers. Florida decided not to implement protections for workers, although 11 workers have died there from heat over the last six years. Some private employers have implemented policies to help employees. Target has changed its dress code to allow more of its employees to wear shorts in response to the increase in heat. The company also said it has other policies for workers in extreme heat, including frequent water and rest breaks.