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NJBIA testified on Thursday in opposition to legislation that would mandate new expedited rules to address heat stress for workers, saying the proposed standards are impractical and costly – and may leave some businesses with no choice but to close operations during heatwaves.

In written testimony to the Assembly Labor Committee, NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Elissa Frank said the prevention of employee illness caused by heat in indoor and outdoor environments is already part of maintaining an effective workplace safety program.

“However, our members have found that it is extraordinarily difficult for them to comply with this legislation given its sheer impracticality, vagueness, costs, and industrial workplace-oriented standards that do not fit the needs of all businesses,” Frank said.

Frank told the committee that NJBIA was working on a comprehensve amendment request that represents the concerns of over 40 different business organizations.

As the legislation stands now, bill A-3521 (Quijano, D-20) would require that employers postpone work or increase the total number of workers to reduce exposure for each worker during a heatwave. Frank said that provision would “unnecessarily raise the cost of doing business in New Jersey by, effectively, requiring that businesses hire additional employees during heatwaves or cease business operations.”

“In the context of New Jersey’s workforce shortage issue, under this bill, businesses may have no choice but to close business when it’s too hot,” Frank said.

During her appearance before the committee on Thursday, Frank read a letter from NJBIA member Mike Jurusz, owner of Chef Mike’s Atlantic Bar and Grill in South Seaside Park, that discussed all the precautions he already takes to keep his kitchen workers safe during the hot summer months.

“In my restaurant, every season starts off with meetings to explain the importance of hydration,” Jurusz wrote. “Same for any new worker. We provide ice buckets, cold towels, bottled water and Gatorade every day. We have fans behind the line and enhanced air conditioning outside the kitchen. Our peak season is in the summer and while it can get hot and very busy, we’ve never come close to having someone pass out from heat. If someone ever needed a break, for a short time, they would just ask for it. Again, why would we want to risk someone’s health?”

Jurusz wrote that it would be impractical for a restaurant to reduce work schedules or hire extra workers just to be on standby during a summer heatwave, as the legislation would require.

“We don’t need this mandate,” Jurusz wrote. “We have plenty of other mandates in New Jersey to comply with unfortunately. This is just one more reason why our state is not business friendly.”

Frank told the committee the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) already has a general provision relating to worker safety that has been effective in protecting workers from unsafe conditions, including excessive heat.

OSHA, she said, is already working on specific heat-related standards.

Beyond the vagueness of the legislation, and how it would apply to different businesses from farming to healthcare, from restaurants to gas stations, when they all have different needs and conditions, Frank said the requirement for businesses to “develop, implement and maintain,” a heat injury prevention plan within 30 days of passage of legislation would be an impossibility.

“Even assuming a business was already following the requirements set forth in this legislation, changes in health and safety processes take time to ensure that changes to operations will increase safety,” Frank said.

“Sometimes requiring that a business follow a new safety procedure has the unintended consequence of causing another hazard. For example, requiring that an employee wear PPE could, in a hot environment, cause an employee’s eye protection to fog up, preventing them from seeing.

“Changes to business operations need to be adequately studied by impacted businesses, and NJBIA believes businesses need more than 30 days to do so,” Frank said.

The committee released the bill by a 7-4 vote, with all four Republican members of the committee opposing it.

To see Frank’s full written testimony, click here.