Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Labor and Industry
Safety and Health Codes Board
Heat Illness Prevention Standard [16 VAC 25 ‑ 210]
Action NOIRA on Heat Illness Prevention
Comment Period Ended on 6/9/2021
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6/9/21  7:05 pm
Commenter: Farmworker Justice

Comment in Response to Virginia Department of Labor and Industry/Safety and Health Codes Board NOIRA

Farmworker Justice submits these comments in response to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Notice of Intent of Regulatory Action to begin the process of creating heat stress standards to protect Virginia’s workers. Because heat related illness poses an increasing risk to agricultural workers, Farmworker Justice supports the proposed action and encourages the state to implement strong, enforceable standards.


Farmworker Justice (FJ) is a national organization, based in Washington, DC that seeks to empower farmworkers and their families to improve their immigration status, living and working conditions, occupational safety and health, and access to health care. As a national organization, FJ knows firsthand that states must step in where the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to the nation’s workers. Although both Congress and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have long been aware of the serious hazards posed by high heat, neither institution has chosen to take action. In fact, FJ and other organizations have repeatedly petitioned OSHA to implement a permanent standard to protect workers from heat related illness,[1] but OSHA has declined to act.[2] Similarly, Congress has heard testimony multiple times over the past decade about the dangers posed by high heat.[3] Nonetheless, landmark legislation to require OSHA to create heat stress standards have failed to move out of committee.[4]


While the federal government drags its feet, the men and women who harvest our food continue to suffer. Heat is the most immediate lethal danger to agricultural workers.[5] It can cause workers to feel nauseous, dizzy, and weak.[6] When these symptoms are ignored, a person may begin to have a seizure, and their organs may begin to break down, leading to a coma and even death.[7] Even when a worker survives the workday and returns home, the danger has not passed. Heat and dehydration wreak havoc on a person’s kidneys. Studies show that farmworkers who are exposed to high heat without sufficient rest and water breaks face an increased long-term risk of deadly kidney injury.[8] As climate change leads to increasing temperatures, the consequences of inaction will only worsen.


Despite these acute dangers, many workers are not provided simple protection such as water, rest, and shade. Farmworkers often worry that they may experience discrimination or retaliation from their employer if they complain about their conditions. The threat is even worse for undocumented workers, who live under the constant fear of deportation. When workers are paid on a piece-rate basis, where their wages are determined by the amount they harvest, they often cannot afford to take a rest or water break. Without legal protection from excessive heat exposure, farmworkers are susceptible to severe health issues and abuse from their employers.


Virginia’s proposal to become the newest state with a heat stress standard is an important step in the right direction and an opportunity to learn from other states’ successes and failures. In order to address the unique vulnerability of farmworkers, Virginia must ensure that any standard implemented includes strong enforcement and anti-retaliation components so that workers are empowered to report violations and assert their rights. Without strong enforcement and anti-relation protections, workers will continue to face the same dangers regardless of a regulation’s language. Similarly, the standard must require that safety training and information are provided to workers in a language and format that they understand. A study of the efficacy of California’s heat stress standard found that even when employers complied with the state’s requirements, workers often lacked a sufficient understanding of the risks and the necessary preventative measures.[9] The study’s authors attributed this shortcoming, in part, to workers’ low education levels. Virginia should consult with community-based organizations to create accessible materials in English, Spanish, and other languages spoken by Virginia’s farmworkers.


Farmworker Justice commends Virginia for taking action to protect the state’s workers from increasing heat. We encourage the state to continue being a leader in worker safety by ensuring that the standards are enforceable and effective.




Iris Figueroa

Farmworker Justice Director of Economic and Environmental Justice

[1] Letter from Sammy Almashat, M.D., M.P.H., Staff Researcher, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group et al., to Hon. Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., Asst. Sec. of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dept. of Labor 21 (Sep. 1, 2011), (last accessed June 9, 2021); Letter Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Founder and Senior Advisor, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, to Loren Sweatt, Acting Asst. Sec. of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dept. of Labor 8-9 (July 17, 2018), (last accessed June 2, 2021).

[2] Letter from Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., to Sidney Wolfe, Director, Public Health Citizen‘s Research Group 1 (Jun. 7, 2012), (last accessed June 2, 2021).

[3] Strengthening the Economy and Improving the Lives of American Workers: Hearing Before the H. Comm. on Educ. and Lab., 111 Cong. (2010) (statement of Hon. Hilda L. Solis, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor) (“There are 650,000 farm workers in California who face death and illness from toiling in stifling summer heat. One such worker, Asuncion Valdivia, had been picking grapes in 110 degree heat during a 10-hour shift, when he collapsed and lost consciousness. After Asuncion regained consciousness his boss canceled the ambulance, instead leaving his son to drive him to the hospital. On the way, the son had to watch his father die at the age of 53 from a preventable heat illness.”)

[4] S. 1068, 117th Cong. (2021) (Referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions); H.R. 2193, 117th Cong. (2021) (Referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor); S. 4781, 116th Cong. (2019) (Referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions); H.R. 3668, 116th Cong. (2019) (Referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor).

[5] S.E. Smith, Heat is Now the Deadliest Threat to Farmworkers. Only Two States Protect Them From It, Talk Poverty (June 20, 2019),

[6] Wolfe, supra note 1 at 8.

[7] Smith, supra note 5.

[8] New Study Shows Heat Stress Protections Prevent Kidney Injury Among Farmworkers--and Save Lives, Farmworker Justice Blog (2020),

[9] Chelsea Eastman Langer, Ph.D., M.P.H., et. al., Are Cal/OSHA Regulations Protecting Farmworkers in California Grom Heat-Related Illness?, 63 J. of Occupational and Env’t. Med. 532 (2021).

CommentID: 99035