Tucson working on a heat ordinance for its employees following the hottest summer ever

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 6:24 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - With 2023 being the hottest summer on record, a lot of attention has been paid to the people who play outdoors and those who work outdoors.

And much of that is because of the high number of heat-related deaths.

The county coroner’s office in Pima County reported 86 heat-related deaths in July and another 37 in August.

It’s the first-ever comprehensive look the county has taken on heat-related deaths and it squares with Phoenix, where 425 people died of heat-related causes last year.

But it is an eye-opener here and the numbers have spurred the city to take action.

“I don’t think we need to wait until we have people dropping like flies before we implement something like this,” said Steve Kozachik, City council member from Ward 6 who first thought of the idea last summer while working on a tiny house with some city workers in 110-degree heat. “Let’s be proactive about it.”

Kozachik says it’s not like the climate change issues we’re going through now will subside anytime soon so getting something on the books now is a good idea.

“We all know our bodies are little chemistry sets, you need fluids, you need to cool off,” he said. “Let’s treat people the way they deserve to be treated.”

In their study session next week, Tucson city leaders will discuss a heat-related ordinance that is being written and tweaked by the city attorney’s office right now.

It will likely require workers like police, fire, construction workers, city services, landscapers to take cooling off breaks. While Tucson will not be the first in the state to propose a heat related ordinance, some state lawmakers have been arguing this is a move which governments should have proposed before the number of deaths has risen to such high levels.

“This isn’t normal, this cannot be normalized instead of, hey, like let’s figure out how to save lives,” said State Senator Anna Hernandez, a Democrat from District 24. “We’re responding to the fact that people are going to die.”

Supporters of a Tucson heat-related ordinance say it hopes to lead by example.

Even though the city cannot compel others to allow their workers to take frequent breaks in the heat, to drink some water, sit in air conditioning, it’s hoped they will follow suit.

“If Tucson leads by example, Pima County can certainly do the same thing. The university employees can be taken care of, TUSD employees could be taken care of,” Kozachik said “Let’s start chipping away at this.”

Chipping away before the thermometer begins to rise again.

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