Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

America’s Doublethink on Working Through the Heat

June 21, 2024


Heat can be deadly; no federal rules currently exist to protect workers against that danger.

It’s troublingly hot in June, which means the United States is entering the heat-death zone for workers again. We’ve been here before. In San Antonio, on a blisteringly hot June day in 2022, Gabriel Infante, a 24-year-old construction worker, died in his first week on the job, after he entered a state of delirium while laying fiber-optic cable; medics measured his temperature at 109.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That same month, Esteban Chavez Jr., also 24, died after passing out while delivering packages in Pasadena, California, in temperatures above 90 degrees.

Attributing a death to heat alone can take months of investigation; attributing a heat-related death to job conditions requires more work still. The tally of worker heat deaths that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers each year is fairly small, but on the rise. It is also, almost certainly, an undercount. A report from Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization, estimates that in the U.S., 2,000 workers die and 170,000 are injured by heat each year. Last summer, worker deaths included an employee at a grocery-store distribution center in Memphis whose colleagues said he was sweating and asking for water, a 66-year-old mail carrier on his route in Dallas, and a 26-year-old farmworker who collapsed on the job in Yuma, Arizona. This summer—perhaps even this current heat wave—will inevitably bring more.

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