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State regulators reject heat stress standard for Virginia workers

Heat Wave
Seth Perlman/AP
Central Illinois corn crops show signs of stress as they struggle to grow during a record breaking heat wave with dry weather conditions that is across most of the country Friday, July 6, 2012 in Farmingdale, Ill. There's been no relief day or night from a scorching heat wave in the central U.S., and the deadly temperatures were heading east Friday after Midwest cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee set record highs. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Advocates for protecting workers from heat stress were unsuccessful in persuading state officials to create a new standard.

Virginia's Safety and Health Codes Board is rejecting a standard for protecting workers against heat stress, a standard the business community rallied against. Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says the proposal was unworkable.

"I'm not sure an 85 degree heat index is sweltering heat. I call that June in Virginia. So the standard was too strict," Haner explains. "The standard was basically one size fits all."

Advocates for farmworkers say they're disappointed in the decision of the health board last week. Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says Democratic Governor Ralph Northam could have done more to make it happen.

"The bottom line is we are not going to see this," Bobo says. "And it goes back to I think really the governor stacking the committee with industry people before the COVID standard vote this summer."

Advocates for the standard say this issue is not going anywhere, especially with climate change creating hotter summers and more dangerous conditions for workers.

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. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.