Remembering Tim Barber, 1984-2020

Tim Barber of LeRoy, New York, was a young, creative man who loved his mother’s cooking and his family’s company. He is remembered as a talented artist who left his mark in murals he created throughout his community.

On a sweltering day in July 2020, his second day doing outdoor construction, Tim Barber died of preventable heat illness. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), his employer had failed to train him and implement other safeguards to protect him and other employees against extreme heat hazards. Ostensibly not wanting to cause a hassle at his new job, Tim had left his water in his car the first day, parking a far distance from the work site so as to not get in the way. He returned home that evening exhausted and sunburnt, with his parents, Jim and Kathy Barber, expressing their concern for his health. The following day, Tim collapsed at work on a 90-degree day, succumbing to hypothermia before even reaching the hospital.

Tim’s story is the tragic outcome of an occupational landscape that has yet to prioritize the extreme health risks of heat that face millions of other workers like him. From construction to agriculture, workers across the US are currently unprotected by any federal standard for heat, a reality that is especially negligent under an escalating climate emergency. This means that employers like Tim’s, who either have inadequate education on the severity of heat stress or the motivation to want to address it, are largely immune from the consequences that Tim’s parents know all too well. For Jim and Kathy Barber, they will never again get to greet their son on their doorsteps after a day’s work.

Jim and Kathy Barber have responded by courageously committing to honoring their son’s legacy by ensuring that no one else has to experience what Tim went through. They are currently pushing for stronger heat stress regulation in their home state of New York, hoping to make local changes that can snowball towards the federal level. By coordinating with OSHA on educational videos and presentations, they hope to raise awareness for the current lack of protection facing workers just like their son.

At La Isla Network, we have seen the tragic reality that inadequate occupational protections are having worldwide. Occupational heat is a crisis that is only continuing to get worse under climate change. It is driving an epidemic of kidney disease killing tens of thousands of workers in Central America, creating illness and premature death in migrant workers currently building the World Cup stadiums in Qatar, and negatively affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans who make their living under the hot sun. We honor Tim’s life, cut short by unacceptable and preventable circumstances that we will continue fighting to change for good.

Thank you to Jim and Kathy Barber for speaking with us and sharing the story of the life of their son, Tim. We will continue to fight and advocate alongside families like the Barbers to ensure that no worker, regardless of where they live, must suffer under the preventable dangers of occupational heat.