Representational image AFP

A little over a month ago, Florida's Senate passed a bill aimed at banning cities and counties from implementing requirements for mandatory protections against extreme heat for workers.

The bill was criticized by advocates and workers group, as it would ban local governments from going beyond federal requirements regarding water breaks and rest under the shade during work periods.

At the moment there are no federal standards to protect outdoor workers in the country from heat and humidity, a situation that can become deadly as temperatures continue rising at a global level.

In this context, a group of tomato farmworkers got national attention for pushing for a series of concessions that make their shifts more tolerable. The result is the strongest set of workplace heat protections in the country.

A report by Noticias Telemundo showed that the measures include tables with shade for when they get exhausted, coolers with water and energy drinks and bathrooms. They also have mandatory 10-minute breaks every two hours when temperatures exceed 80°F and a complete halt when they go above 105 °F.

The guidelines are a result of the negotiation by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Sunripe Certified Brands, the company who owns this particular farm.

According to the Washington Post, another agreement between the former and the Fair Food Program certifies farms that follow such rules, placing them first in line to sell their products to 14 big produce buyers, among them Walmart, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and McDonald's. Buyers agree to pay a small premium to ensure the produce comes from farms adhering to these guidelines, while those who get kicked out of the program are blacklisted.

"We're under the shade, we didn't have that in the past. They can come here when they're exhausted," Lucas Benitez, cofounder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told Telemundo during the report.

Workers highlighted the measures' positive impact as well. "It's hard due to the high temperatures. Your work ability decreases as hours go by as a result of the heat," a worker called Roman said. "You feel it after two or three hours, the body is slower to react," added another one called Armando.

Heat stress kills several workers every year, according to figures from the Labor Department. And the danger is only set to increase as the world continues to break heat records. 2024's was the hottest March in recorded history, setting a record for the 10th consecutive month.

Construction, agriculture and other majority-outdoor sector workers have the higher risks of heat-related deaths, according to the National Weather Service.

At the moment there are no federal workplace safety rules, and only four states (California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado) have local rules applying to farmworkers.

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