Phoenix enacts landmark heat safety ordinance for outdoor workers amid rising temperatures

A unanimous decision by the Phoenix City Council has led to the adoption of an ordinance mandating essential heat safety measures.

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Phoenix, Arizona, known as the hottest city in the United States, has taken a groundbreaking step to safeguard thousands of outdoor workers against the perils of extreme heat. A unanimous decision by the Phoenix City Council has led to the adoption of an ordinance mandating essential heat safety measures, including ample rest, accessible potable water, adequate shade, and crucial training to recognize the signs of heat stress. Additionally, the ordinance ensures that workers in vehicles with enclosed cabs have access to air conditioning, marking a significant advancement in occupational health and safety.

Katelyn Parady, a Phoenix-based expert on worker health and safety with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), played a pivotal role in advocating for these new extreme heat protection measures alongside unions and local workers. Parady emphasized the ordinance’s importance, stating, “This ordinance is a critical first step toward getting workers lifesaving protections and holding employers accountable for safety during heat season. It’s also a model for how local governments can leverage their contracts to protect the workers who keep their communities running from climate change dangers.”

The urgency of such an ordinance has never been more apparent. In 2023, Phoenix experienced a staggering 31 consecutive days with temperatures soaring above 110 degrees, a new record that underscores the escalating challenges posed by climate change. The scorching temperatures have had dire consequences, with the city reporting 340 heat-related deaths and Maricopa County seeing a total of 645 fatalities. Alarmingly, three-quarters of these heat-related deaths occurred outdoors, highlighting the acute risks faced by those working in open environments.

The demographic profile of outdoor workers in the United States reveals a disproportionate representation of Hispanic or Black individuals, who constitute over 40% of this workforce segment, despite making up approximately 32% of the population. These workers, often engaged in low-income roles, bear the brunt of extreme heat hazards. Research by Public Citizen indicates that the risk of Latinx workers succumbing to heat stress is over three times greater than that of their counterparts, painting a grim picture of occupational health disparities.

Workers like Filiberto Lares, who has dedicated 11 years to delivering food to airplanes for Sky Chefs at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, and Cecilia Ortiz, a passenger service agent, have voiced their struggles and the life-changing impact of the ordinance. Lares shared, “In the summers, when the temperatures reach extremes, the asphalt on the tarmac is even hotter. It has felt as though people forget that many of us work in vehicles. Having air conditioning in work trucks, buses, and delivery vans matters just as much as in a building because those vehicles are our workplaces.”

The ordinance is set to benefit a wide range of outdoor laborers working on city contracts, including those involved in engineering, construction, airport projects, and other city services. Lori Bays, Phoenix’s deputy manager, estimates that roughly 10,000 city contract workers will come under the purview of this new rule.

Juan Declet-Barreto, a climate vulnerability researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists, underscored the environmental justice implications of Phoenix’s heat island effect, characterized by minimal vegetation and an unequal distribution of shading and trees. This effect exacerbates temperature exposure, particularly affecting communities with fewer resources.

Advocates of the ordinance are calling for broader protections that extend beyond workers employed by city contractors and subcontractors. The goal is to ensure that all workers, regardless of their employment status, have robust safeguards against the hazards of extreme heat. “It’s good news that our city council is listening to workers who are in grave danger due to climate change,” Parady remarked. “But your body’s ability to cope with extreme heat does not depend on whether you work for a city contractor, directly for the city, or for a private employer. We’re going to keep organizing until all workers have strong protection from heat – because everyone works under the same blazing sun.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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