Why are workers in the U.S. still dying from heat exhaustion?
By Leticia Miranda
As a brutal heat wave rips across the country, thousands of workers who toil outdoors face risks of heat stress, with no specific federal standard that covers working in hot environments.
“Extreme heat is a public health crisis and a lot of social and economic inequities come with it,” said Oscar Londoño, executive director of WeCount!, a Homestead, Florida-based immigrant worker advocacy organization. “We see heat disproportionately impacts low-income communities, minorities and seniors,” he said.
Workers exposed to extreme heat are particularly vulnerable to illness. Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Overall, more than 65,000 people visit the emergency room for heat-related stress a year and about 700 die from heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of these cases are concentrated in Florida, where heat drove more than 6,000 people to the emergency room in 2019, a 35 percent increase from 2010, when heat resulted in roughly 5,000 ER visits, according to data from the CDC.