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The federal government wants to protect people who work outdoors from heat


Air is still hazy in much of the country due to wildfires in Canada, but many workers don't have the option to stay inside. And as NPR's Ximena Bustillo reports, there aren't many federal protections for them.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: The summer's just giving way, and activists are already on the radio to warn farmworkers about the heat.


JOSE MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BUSTILLO: That's Jose Martinez. He's a farmworker in Washington state, telling listeners to watch for signs of heat stress like sweat, nausea and heart palpitations.


MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BUSTILLO: Two years ago, during a heat dome in the Northwest, farmworkers died from the heat. After that, Washington mandated strict rules for additional breaks, shade and water for workers. At the federal level, there are a few protections, but the Biden administration is trying to fix that.

DOUG PARKER: Addressing heat illness is one of our top priorities.

BUSTILLO: That's Doug Parker, who leads the federal agency for Workplace Safety and Health.

PARKER: So many workers who are disproportionately affected by heat are low-wage workers who have jobs outside. They're often immigrant workers, workers of color.

BUSTILLO: And now states like Texas and Louisiana are experiencing record-breaking heat. Parker is starting to get reports about worker fatalities.

PARKER: I've had a couple of them come into my inbox in the last week, sadly.

BUSTILLO: Parker says employers should be providing similar protections like those in Washington for workers from the heat. There are also air quality alerts in northern parts of the country such as Illinois, New Jersey and New York. And workers have needed to adjust. The New York Farm Bureau is turning to bilingual posters to show workers ways to protect themselves like wearing a mask properly. Steve Ammerman is the communications director.

STEVE AMMERMAN: We definitely are encouraging everyone to take the necessary precautions, to make sure that they stay as safe as possible.

BUSTILLO: Officials are urging people to stay inside, but farmworkers often don't have that option. The federal government is currently not considering a smoke rule. Ximena Bustillo, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.