With our country’s rising climate crisis and recent national concern, the Arizona Legislature is working to protect workers affected by the heat.
According to the National Weather Service, “extreme heat and humidity is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year.”
As an attempt to take action on our rising concern, District 3 Arizona Rep. Andres Cano, sponsored a bill earlier this year titled, “working conditions; heat illness; prevention,” that he introduced based on rising temperatures and as a solution to the “tremendous climate crisis in our country,” he said.
Cano said that the standards set in the bill were very thoughtful to our location, and unlike many other heat-illness-related plans across the country, the regulations would kick in once temperatures reach the triple digits as opposed to 80 degrees.
The bill would have set standards for workers in the agricultural, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation and delivery industries. The goal was “establishing reasonable standards as provided in this section that are designed to protect employees from heat illness while engaged in outdoor work,” according to Arizona HB2684. It included standards for water accessibility, shade or climate-controlled environment requirements, rest periods for heat-illness symptoms as well as procedural training.
Roy Sawyer, construction manager for his family’s business, JE Dunn Construction, and one of the outdoor workers the bill was working to protect, said that he has “had a lot of guys drop out where, you know, they get heat exhaustion.”
Sawyer said that his workers already try to take breaks and drink lots of fluids, but working in downtown Phoenix and residential areas, “there’s restrictions on starting too early. So it puts the guys out a lot longer in the heat.”
Sawyer said that drink aids, cooling stations and shade structures could help reduce his team’s likelihood of heat-illness, which are exactly the solutions the bill would have implemented.
The bill was ultimately held in committee after the second read, due to what Cano said was “partisan gridlock.”
Although the bill was not passed the first time around, Cano will be reintroducing the bill next year to continue the fight to protect these valuable workers. This issue is ongoing and cumulative and at this point.
“It’s more expensive for us to not be looking at these preventative measures,” Cano said. We are past the point of handling heat-related illness on a case-by-case basis. Pushing this issue off may prove to be more costly than taking measures immediately.
Cano said that are countless workers that are putting their lives on the line every day that need more protections and by not passing legislation that sets safety standards for days that reach dangerous temperatures, the consequences may affect our community in more ways than one.
As “our water resources are depleting, our air is getting hotter and dryer and our workers are still going at it, the need has not gone away, if anything it is in our best interest moving forward” to protect this community, he said.