Heat-related work hazards are severe in the South. Florida workers’ compensation law does allow for coverage of job site illnesses such as heat stroke – but only when it results in a week or more of lost time at work. As The Miami Herald reported recently, Florida has one of the highest heat-related hospitalizations in the country, with agricultural and construction workers at highest risk. Even that is a low estimate, given that many conditions, such as heart attacks, asthma and even mental illness could be aggravated as a result of high heat. The key is proving those conditions were caused or substantially impacted by conditions of overheating at work – which is why having a Miami workers’ compensation attorney is so essential in these cases.
The problem is only going to get worse, according to a number of worker advocacy groups, thanks to rapidly rising temperatures due to climate change. A health project coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida stated many workers in the field have reported a noted rise in the temperatures as they work day in day out in the blazing Florida sun. A recent report by the United Nations revealed average U.S. temperatures have risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last three decades. Unchecked, it will rise another 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, which the U.N. said could have a catastrophic impact for humans in general.
How Florida Workers’ Compensation Law Can Extend to Workers With Heat Illness
As it now stands, there is technically no federal or Florida workers’ compensation law that specifically requires employers to protect workers from heat stress as temperatures climb. While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does have a list of guidelines for preventing heat illness, workers aren’t guaranteed those provisions and they may not even be standard practice.
Although your employer should cover all reasonable and related medical bills regardless, F.S. 440.12 stipulates that workers are not paid for the first seven days of disability – unless you are out-of-work for more than 21 days, in which case, you might be able to receive payment for those days depending on the workers’ compensation policy. Temporary total and temporary partial disability payments or a combination of the two can be paid for a maximum of 104 weeks.
Why Florida Workers Are Worried About the Heat
Because there isn’t a specific Florida workers’ compensation law that requires coverage for heat illnesses, workers have to prove their stroke, their heart attack, their asthma or other condition was caused or exacerbated by their work-related duties in the heat.
Miami-Dade County has an estimated 100,000 agricultural and construction workers – more than any other county in the state.
Farmworkers especially may be at risk because they tend to drink less water so they have less need to use the restroom because they don’t want to fall short of production quotas, as many are paid by the piece. But this is a big problem for outdoor workers, especially in Florida’s summer swelter. When Emory University conducted a recent study of farmworkers in South and Central Florida, they found half the workers begin the day dehydrated. By the end of the workshift, 3 out of 4 were dehydrated and 4 in 5 had a core body temperature of 100 degrees – putting them at high risk for serious heat-related illness and injury. One-third had an acute kidney injury at least at some point during the study. Which is why Florida workers’ compensation law should require coverage for heat illnesses.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Florida heat is already hard on outdoor workers. Climate change will raise health risks, Oct. 31, 2018, By Alex Harris, Miami Herald
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Freeman Injury Law Announces New Workers’ Compensation Department, Nov. 19, 2018, Florida Workers’ Compensation Law Blog