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Climate Change’s Affects on Worker’s Compensation

With an anticipated surge in heat waves this summer, California officials are grappling with the lasting economic impact on workers and businesses, while also exploring additional measures to safeguard those most affected by extreme temperatures.

Despite California’s existing heat standards safeguarding outdoor workers, advocates and workers contend that enforcement remains a challenge. Efforts to establish indoor workplace heat regulations have been ongoing for years.

An analysis of California worker compensation data from 2001 to 2018 reveals a correlation between hot days and increased workplace accidents. This study, conducted by a left-leaning economic research nonprofit, estimates approximately 360,000 workplace injuries in California during this period, translating to around 20,000 injuries annually.

Moreover, a newly formed state advisory committee plans to address persisting issues surrounding underreported heat-related illnesses and injuries, inadequate data collection, and the financial repercussions on workers and businesses during temperature spikes.

The study indicates that temperatures exceeding 100 degrees can result in a 10-15% surge in same-day workplace injuries, primarily impacting low-wage workers. The financial toll of recovering from heat-related injuries averages $35,000 per worker, potentially totaling hundreds of millions annually in California alone.

Furthermore, the study underscores the link between high temperatures and diminished cognitive function, impacting decision-making in the workplace.

While California’s outdoor workers benefit from mandated protections like water breaks and shade, indoor workers remain largely unprotected. Efforts to establish indoor heat rules have faced delays, leaving workers vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

Despite ongoing advocacy and legal action to enforce heat-related regulations, challenges persist in ensuring compliance and worker safety. Effective outreach and culturally relevant messaging are essential in conveying heat risks and workers’ rights.

Given the urgency of heat-related reforms, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas has emphasized the need for concerted efforts to protect workers amidst escalating climate challenges.

While the newly established advisory committee represents a positive step, its mandate extends to 2026, highlighting the prolonged timeline for comprehensive reforms. Quarterly meetings and potential research initiatives aim to guide the committee’s efforts.

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