By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
It is commonplace for those of us in office workplaces to have drinking water, bathrooms, and soap, water and towels. Farmworkers don’t always have these amenities even when required by law. Despite state regulations requiring agricultural employers to provide adequate amounts of potable drinking water in the fields, many farmworkers continue to go without adequate amounts of water if any at all.
When working outside in the heat, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. We need fluids to keep our bodies properly cooled; without ample water, the body can experience muscle cramping, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Farmworkers often do not drink sufficient quantities of water during the day for fear of having to take time away from work and losing pay. In some cases, the toilets are too far away and dirty. Farmworkers may not be aware of their need to drink water to stave off dehydration since many times heat stress prevention education is deficient.
AFOP Health & Safety recommends that farmworkers be advised to drink one quart of water per hour, which equals one eight ounce glass every 15 minutes, while working in the fields. Water should have a palatable (pleasant and odor-free) taste and water temperature should be cool. Farmworkers are encouraged to choose water over soda and other drinks containing caffeine and high sugar content. These drinks may lead to dehydration, as well as alcoholic beverages, the consumption of which is highly discouraged during hot weather.
There are additional reasons that farmworkers choose not to drink water and that is because no one wants to be reprimanded or retaliated against for taking an unscheduled break. Yet, much like water breaks are vital and necessary tools for maintaining one’s health while working in the fields. Farm work is labor intensive work performed outdoors and during the warmest seasons requires a great deal of physical exertion, often times running the risk of dehydration or worse.
Providing farmworkers with breaks throughout the work day would go a long way to ensure that farmworkers are drinking appropriate amounts of water, using restroom facilities, and taking the proper precautions for safe food handling. Work breaks are important so that farmworkers have time to eat and rest as necessary, helping to prevent injuries and in more extreme weather conditions death. However, there is no federal regulation requiring that an employer provide time for lunch or rest breaks, and if the employer does provide a lunch break it can be deducted from paid time.
Often times, when speaking with farmworkers breaks are always a topic of contention. Most farmworkers are very hesitant, or in denial, about taking breaks because in the fields time really is money and every cent counts. Granted, AFOP trainers stress the importance of taking breaks in the shade and drinking water when providing heat stress prevention training. But it is during summer months when temperatures are soaring and work is never-ending that water and rest become imperative. So remember to stay hydrated and to take a break because your life may depend on it!