Department of Labor Logo OSHA News Release - Region 4


April 15, 2024

 

US Department of Labor cites South Florida contractor for lack of heat illness prevention program after heatstroke claims 26-year-old worker’s life

McNeill Labor Management exposed H-2A workers to 97-degree heat at Belle Glade site

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – Making the trip from Mexico to South Florida, a 26-year-old man arrived in September 2023, ready to start a new job on a sugar cane farm in Belle Glade. Four days later, he suffered fatal heat-related injuries while working in an open field as the heat index reached 97 degrees. 

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that McNeill Labor Management Inc. of Belle Glade, the farm labor contractor who hired the young man under the federal H-2A program for temporary or seasonal nonimmigrant workers, could have prevented his death by implementing safety rules to protect workers from heat-related hazards. These include using an effective plan to help workers acclimate to the weather conditions.

OSHA investigators learned the worker, sitting atop stacks of sugar cane on a trailer as he tossed them to the ground for planting, began experiencing symptoms consistent with heat-related illness and complaining of not feeling well. Shortly after, he collapsed.

The field in which he worked is about an hour west of West Palm Beach, 20 minutes from the closest road and 22 miles from the hospital to which he was transported and where he later died, stricken by heatstroke.

“This young man’s life ended on his first day on the job because his employer did not fulfill its duty to protect employees from heat exposure, a known and increasingly dangerous hazard,” explained OSHA Area Director Condell Eastmond in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Had McNeill Labor Management made sure its workers were given time to acclimate to working in brutally high temperatures with required rest breaks, the worker might not have suffered a fatal injury.”

As average temperatures rise across the U.S., heat illness is a growing safety and health concern for workers, both indoors and outdoors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that environmental heat exposure claimed the lives of 36 workers in 2021 and 56 in 2020.

After its investigation, OSHA cited McNeill Labor with one serious violation for exposing workers to hazards associated with high ambient heat while working in direct sunlight. Federal investigators also found that the employer did not report the worker’s hospitalization or eventual death, both of which the law requires be reported. McNeill Labor Management faces $27,655 in proposed penalties, an amount set by federal statute.

The company is contesting the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Based in Belle Glade, McNeill Labor Management provides contract laborers for nursery cleanups; harvesting, packing and stacking for corn and cabbage farms; and cane planting and cutting in sugar cane fields in agricultural markets throughout the U.S.

OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign educates employers and workers on the dangers of heat in the workplace and offers resources on how to recognize and reduce extreme heat hazards. OSHA, along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers a heat safety tool for Android and iPhones, which allows users to calculate the heat index on their work site and determine the risk level to outdoor workers, enabling them to take protective measures to avoid heat-related injuries.

 

Media Contacts:

Erika B. Ruthman, 678-237-0630, ruthman.erika.b@dol.gov
Eric R. Lucero, 678-237-0630, lucero.eric.r@dol.gov

Release Number:  24-579-ATL (105)