Photo: courtesy of http://www.edisonpower.com
It’s already 90⁰ and noon is still three hours away. Afternoon temperatures will continue to rise upwards of 100⁰ and there isn’t a cloud in sight. Today is no different than yesterday or the day before, nor will it be any different than the days to come. This is mid-July on a farm and it is only projected to get warmer as summer lingers on and the sweat soaks through your clothing.
Every summer there is one story too many about outdoor workers falling victim to an illness caused by heat or worse yet, dying. There are many workers in different professions at risk for heat illness, but farmworkers are especially susceptible as a result of their work environment. Most farm work takes place in direct sunlight without the necessary provisions to sustain farmworkers.
The physical labor, the impenetrable protective clothing, the heavy machinery, and the fact that work takes place in the warmest months are all contributing factors to heat related illnesses.
Heat related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the most severe, heat stroke, occurs when the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. This is caused by environmental factors and physical activity, and can be made worse by personal factors.
Heat related illness is entirely avertible by taking a few simple measures farmworkers can reduce its occurrence and severity.
However, when there are sudden increases in temperature “shift-work” is necessary to ensure the health and safety of farmworkers while monitoring weather conditions for further dangers. Farmworkers can also take precautions areas where they possess greater control, like drinking sufficient amounts of water before working and during shifts in the field. Wearing the proper attire also serves useful in protecting oneself from the scorching sun. This includes light colored, loose fitting clothing, a hat or cap with a brim.
By understanding the importance of taking breaks in the shade and the benefits of working hardest during the cooler hours of the day, farmworkers will be better able to protect themselves. Ultimately, education is most important, not only in recognizing the symptoms of heat illness, but what to do avoid falling victim.
OSHA Fact Sheet: Protecting Workers from the Effects of Heat
OSHA Quick Card: Protecting Workers from Heat Stress