Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) to introduce legislation to ensure the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act is named Asunción Valdivia who died in 2004 after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. Mr. Valdivia fell unconscious and instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told Mr. Valdivia’s son to drive his father home. On his way home, he died of heat stroke at the age of 53. Mr. Valdivia’s death was completely preventable, yet his story is not unique.
“Extreme heat exposure is deadly and too often puts our essential workers in dangerous environments,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “As we continue to experience record-high temperatures, it’s critical we pass this bill to protect our workers.”
Heat-related illnesses can cause heat cramps, organ damage, heat exhaustion, stroke, and even death. Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000. Climate change is making the problem worse. From 2011-2020, heat exposure killed at least 400 workers and caused nearly 34,000 injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work; both are likely vast underestimates. This year is on pace to be the hottest on record: the first week of July had the hottest days on record on Earth, following the hottest ever month of June. Farmworkers and construction workers suffer the highest incidence of heat illness. And no matter what the weather is outside, workers in factories, commercial kitchens, and other workplaces, including ones where workers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), can face dangerously high heat conditions all year round.
“No worker should have to endure life-threatening heat to provide for their family. This would be an important step to protect Ohio workers on the job,” said Senator Brown. “We know too many workers still work in dangerous conditions, putting their health and safety on the line every day to provide for their families. There’s not much dignity in a job where you fear for your health or your life.”
“Asunción Valdivia tragically lost his life to heatstroke picking grapes in 105-degree heat under the Central Valley sun. Nearly 20 years later, millions of Americans are facing record-breaking extreme heat conditions that put the health and safety of our workers at risk,” said Senator Padilla. “This critical legislation will hold employers accountable and ensure enforceable workplace protections are put in place to prevent workers from falling ill, collapsing on the job, or even losing their lives.”
The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act will protect workers against occupational exposure to excessive heat by:
- Requiring the OSHA to establish an enforceable standard to protect workers in high-heat environments with measures like paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, limitations on time exposed to heat, and emergency response for workers with heat-related illness; and
- Require an interim final rule be in place within one year of the bill’s passage; and
- Directing employers to provide training for their employees on the risk factors that can lead to heat illness, and guidance on the proper procedures for responding to symptoms.
The Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act has the support of a broad coalition of groups including: Rural Coalition, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE!, Communication Workers of America, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice, Public Citizen, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, and United Steelworkers.
Senator Cortez Masto is a champion for workers’ rights. She pushed the Biden administration to launch a coordinated, interagency effort to respond to the health impacts of extreme heat on American workers is an original cosponsor of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to strengthen protections for workers’ right to organize a union and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions.