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Too hot to work? Miami advances heat safety law

Workers who swelter in outdoor jobs will have new safety protections including water and shade breaks under a Miami-Dade County ordinance that easily won preliminary approval Tuesday. 

The vote on the first-of-its-kind measure came as the area hit a record 38th day in a row where the heat index — the ‘feels like’ temperature — was 100 degrees F or hotter.

Last week, a farm worker collapsed and died in a field in Homestead in what appeared to be a heat stroke incident, but the medical examiner’s office had not yet established a cause of death, Miami-Dade police said. 

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The measure would cover construction and agricultural workers, but exempts employees of condominium and homeowners associations. Violations could subject employers to fines of $500 or more for repeated offenses, and could lead to the loss of County contracts. 

The safety measures include:

  • Making sure every worker can communicate heat symptoms
  • Providing sufficient cool drinking water 
  • A 10-minute shaded rest period every two hours
  • Training on how to avoid heat injuries and spot symptoms 

Representatives from labor unions spoke in favor of the measure, introduced by Commissioner Kionne McGhee. 

Only a few states have specific provisions covering outdoor workers, although employers generally are required to maintain safe workplaces under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. President Joe Biden directed OSHA to develop specific standards and a permanent rule is being developed. In Texas, however, Gov. signed a law that eliminated local water break laws in Austin and Dallas. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava appointed a chief heat officer in 2021 as part of an initiative to respond to increasing risks of extreme heat. 

This summer has already astonished meteorologists locally and around the world because of intense heat in both the atmosphere and ocean. The previous Miami streak of heat indexes topping 100 degrees was 32 days, said Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist at the Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key. On Tuesday, the heat index in Miami hit 103 before being cooled by midday showers. 

In Phoenix, the extreme heat blazed into the record books, with a 19th straight day of temperatures hitting 110 degrees F (43.3 C) or more.

The proposed heat ordinance is countywide, but municipalities like Key Biscayne could also adopt their own ordinances. The measure is tentatively set for a public hearing in September before coming back to the full County Commission in the fall. 

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The Associated Press contrubuted to this report


Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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