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State Officials Considering New Heat Stress Regulations

AP Photo / Mike Stewart

State regulators are working on new standards to protect workers from heat stress.

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board is considering new standards to protect workers from heat stress, which is particularly a problem for farm workers and people who work in factories or gas stations.

Rachel McFarland at the Legal Aid Justice Center says workers in Virginia have no enforceable protections.

"Heat stress is a pretty substantial issue for both indoor and outdoor workers," McFarland says. "It's obviously more prevalent for outdoor workers, but even for indoor workers if they're doing highly strenuous activities or if they're working without air conditioning; that can increase the risk for heat stress. And heat stress can actually lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal."

Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says she's hoping the draft regulations will help workers and employers.

"To be meaningful, they need to have guidelines around water breaks, around rest time, around shade," Bobo explains. "And there need to be some standards on how hot it has to be for some of these guidelines and standards to kick in."

One thing regulations cannot do is create a right to private action, allowing workers to sue employers for putting them in danger by forcing them to be exposed to heat for a dangerous amount of time. That could only be accomplished by an act of the General Assembly.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.