Temperatures have been reaching record breaking levels across the country — affecting working conditions for farmers, those in construction and even delivery workers.
The Biden administration recently launched a plan with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers and communities from extreme heat. According to the White House, OSHA will develop a workplace heat standard.
Dr. Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, co-wrote a “Too Hot to Work” report that draws attention to extreme heat affecting U.S. outdoor workers.
“Across the world as our overall climate warms, the frequency and intensity is increasing as well. Conditions are so hot that they pose danger,” Dahl said. “We wanted to understand how climate change could affect the livelihood of outdoor workers in the future.”
Dahl’s team found that outdoor workers are projected to face nearly $1.9 billion in total annual earnings at risk due to extreme heat, with Cook, Will and DuPage Counties being hit hardest.
Rigoberto Campos, Day Laborer Organizer at the Latino Union of Chicago, sees day laborers as a part of this category, finding little relief even when they go home.
“The reality is that day laborers go through extreme heat conditions while at work, but you also go through that if you don’t have cooling symptoms at home,” Campos said. “You’re going through those conditions in your own habitat and in the workplace.”
According to Dahl, scientists find that agriculture and construction are the industries where workers are most affected, with a large population being Latino or Hispanic.
Esperanza Gonzalez from the Illinois Migrant Council assists with training farmworkers in the field on heat prevention safety.
“They need to take breaks, they need to drink plenty of water, to know the symptoms of heat stress, of heat stroke. They need to have somebody with a phone to call 911,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been a challenge because a lot of times they don’t know the harm that heat can do to them. They don’t know that heat can kill them.”