Reps. Raul Grivjala (D.-Ariz.) and Judy Chu (D.-Cal) introduced federal legislation that would mandate OSHA standards for workers exposed to high heat as well as mandating paid cooling breaks, access to water and training to recognize heat stroke.
The Asuncion Valdiva Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is named after a California worker who died after picking grapes for ten hours in 105-degree heat and modeled after a California law passed by Rep. Chu when she served in the California legislature.
Fortunately, deaths and injuries from heat exposure are covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska. This can even be true if heat causes a heart attack where there is a heightened standard for causation. But compensation in workers’ compensation cases is limited and no amount of money can replace the life of a family member.
Nebraska recently experienced nasty heat wave that is still effecting most of the country. While agricultural production in Nebraska is more capital-intensive than in states like Arizona and California, many workers are still vulnerable to heat. The first to come to my mind would be residential construction workers building new houses in shade less subdivisions.
Climate change is expected to raise average summer temperatures in Lincoln, Nebraska by 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and by 11 degrees by 2100. Heat will be an even larger occupational risk than it is today.
Chicago experienced a heat wave in 1995 that killed 749 people. This little remembered natural disaster could be a precursor for more heat-related health problems and deaths in the future and the need to take precautions. The Chicago heat wave of 1995 shows how northern and cold weather areas could be particularly vulnerable to risks from climate-change induced heat waves. Federal legislation about heat standards on the job would be one precaution.
I would urge everyone to contact their elected representatives to support the Asucnion Valdiva Act. Nebraska’ legislators lo like to tout the value of manual labor as a way for young people to build character. But building character shouldn’t mean sacrifcing safety. I also believe that Nebraska should adopt a state law version of the Asuncion Valdiva act.