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Can proposed heat-stress bill limit workers' compensation claims?

Outdoor workers in Florida are frequently exposed to the risks posed by excessive heat. While federal safety authorities have standards that require employers to protect workers from heat stress, some advocates are now pushing for the passing of a proposed bill for the construction and agriculture industries to mandate heat illness prevention. The goal is to set standards statewide for employers to provide outdoor workers with enough drinking water and frequent rest breaks in shaded areas. Compliance will likely limit heat illness-related workers' compensation claims.

Many employers claim that such an act is unnecessary because most employers of outdoor workers already comply with federal safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to monitor the heat index, which is a standard measurement of temperature and humidity. Measurements at or exceeding 91 degrees Fahrenheit are dangerous and require preventative actions.

The advocates for the proposed bill claim that the federal safety agency has only general guidelines. The bill would address both outdoor and indoor heat exposure. It would also mandate that employers must provide safety training to inform workers about the hazards of heat exposure. Workers must learn how to avoid heat-related illnesses and even the steps to take if a co-worker shows signs of heat illness. The urgency of this proposal arose from the rising global temperatures and also the heat-related death of a Florida landscaper last August.

While it is not yet clear whether this bill will be passed, Florida workers who suffer heat-related injuries or illnesses will likely be eligible for benefits through the state-regulated insurance system. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can assist with the claims process in pursuit of benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages. If a worker succumbs to heat-illness, the surviving family members can file death benefits claims.

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