Protect workers from killer temperatures!

by STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

May 4, 2023

Extreme temperatures in the workplace can injure and kill workers. The recently introduced Temperature Extreme Mitigation Program (TEMP) bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Latoya Joyner and State Senator Jessica Ramos, is a first-in-the-nation move designed to protect New York’s workers from temperature-related illnesses. 

The TEMP bill requires employers to mitigate extreme temperatures in the workplace by providing access to drinking water and places to shelter during winter and summer. TEMP will create a statewide workplace standard for heat and cold that will cover workers in agriculture, construction, landscaping, delivery, and food service; indoor and outdoor, including vehicles.  

The bill is a much-needed response to the changing climate, and will save the lives of many working New Yorkers. It can also serve as a model for other states and the federal government to protect workers from temperatures that every year seem to become more extreme. 

The TEMP bill requires that in the heat, employers would have to provide a quart of drinkable water per hour; 10-minute breaks every two hours in the shade or a cool break room; and protective equipment such as hats, sunscreen, fans, and sweat-wicking clothes. In the cold, employers would be required to provide breaks in warmer conditions, as well as accessories that include hats and gloves.

Rising temperatures, rising danger 

Climate change is causing more than extreme weather. These extreme temperatures, especially in the summer, are killing hundreds of New Yorkers every year. In New York City alone, there are an estimated 450 heat-related emergency room visits, 150 heat-related hospital admissions, 10 heat stroke deaths, and 350 heat-exacerbated deaths. 

Recent data also shows that heat-related injuries at work are vastly underreported, and often not even recognized. The data, reviewed by a House Select Committee on the climate crisis in 2021, suggests that hotter work days can also increase the chances of injuries from falling, being struck by vehicles, or mishandling machinery. Researchers found that on days when the temperature is between 85 and 90 degrees, overall risk of workplace injuries, regardless of the official cause, was 5 to 7# higher for affected workers than on cooler days. When the thermometer tops 100 degrees, the overall injury risk rises as much as 15% greater. As temperatures continue to rise, so do the risks for many working people. This is a particularly important concern for New York’s farmworkers, some of whom are now members of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after recently becoming the first farmworkers in the history of the state to organize into a union. With summer just around the corner, New York needs to pass the TEMP bill now.

You can also read the column in New York Amsterdam News.