Our Voices

Heat, Humidity, and Inhumanity: Inside Florida’s Heat Protection Preemption Law

Florida is the hottest state in the US. Yet, Governor Ron DeSantis just signed a bill banning local measures aimed at protecting outdoor workers from extreme heat exposure. This decision displays not only cruelty but also reflects a shortsightedness that harms the well-being of Floridians.

The evidence is extensive: extreme heat poses severe risks to workers worldwide, and its adverse effects are not evenly distributed. From construction laborers who toiled under scorching conditions during the World Cup preparations in Doha to pregnant workers facing heightened risks of heat-related illnesses, the impact of extreme heat is pervasive. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 18,970 lives are lost and 22.87 million occupational injuries occur due to extreme heat. In Florida specifically, a 26-year-old worker recently died from heat-related injuries—injuries that could have been prevented by his employer had safety rules been implemented. It’s not just outdoor laborers like farmworkers and construction workers who are affected. Even indoor workers face risks, especially in environments where access to air conditioning is unreliable. This includes workers in correctional facilities, warehouses, restaurants, and various other sectors.

Amid this grim reality, there are strategies to mitigate the impact of extreme heat on workers. While legislation plays a crucial role—for example, federal protections would ensure Floridians are protected—other stakeholders can still champion workers’ rights despite the legislature’s myopic decision.

In Florida, numerous impactful initiatives are underway to alleviate the impact of the climate crisis. For instance, Miami-Dade County appointed a Chief Heat Officer in 2021, and grassroots organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights honoree, continue to champion farmworkers’ rights. Notably, CIW’s Fair Food Program is renowned for its worker-driven approach to protecting and advancing the dignity of workers—including the strongest workplace heat protections nationwide.

Addressing climate change, including its impact on workers, is a business imperative for the private sector. Climate change is costing workplaces—the ILO estimates that even if we cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, extreme heat will cost the global economy $2.4 trillion in output by 2030. And for investors, not acting on climate change means contributing to significant financial risks.

Our work at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is centered on creating a world that honors everyone’s dignity and empowers stakeholders to drive positive change. Mitigating these costs requires actively transforming our economies away from extractive industries and towards sustainable projects that safeguard the health and well-being of our communities and our planet. Workers at heightened risk of climate change impacts include warehouse workers, farmworkers, and construction workers, the very roles that are essential to feeding, housing, and caring for our communities. To forgo and actively prohibit measures that protect the health and safety of these essential workers is not only a moral failure, but also a shortsighted financial decision. Workers who sustain injuries and even die under dangerous working conditions already cost companies, investors, and taxpayers $100 billion in productivity a year. Rising temperatures and increasingly extreme environmental conditions mean that this cost will only rise and essential systems—such as global food systems, which are enabled by agricultural workers—will continue to be impacted.

On the same day in March that Florida’s legislature endorsed this regressive bill, the World Meteorological Organization issued a “red alert,” that multiple climate change indicators—including global temperatures—broke records in 2023 and that the cost of inaction on climate change far exceeds action. While it remains unknown whether 2024 will break the records of 2023, we do know it is on that path, with January 2024 being the hottest on record. As extreme heat intensifies worldwide, it requires a comprehensive, dignity-centered approach, and everyone, including investors and the business community, has a role to play.