By: Melanie Forti, Health & Safety Programs Director
6am: the sun has risen. The temperature is already somewhere in the high 80’s (°F). In a procession-like line, you’ll see the workers arrive to the fields through the bumpy road ready to tackle the day’s tasks. “Buenos días compadre” is heard from one car to the next one while preparing themselves to enter the field. Dragging an old dirty pair of boots through the field, a group of workers begin their morning stretching exercise routine to avoid hurting their backs. 7am: the crew leader assigns everyone their task. 8am: everyone is working arduously motivated by the need to support their families. You can see the sweat running down their faces and shirts.
12pm: the temperature has already hit around 100 (°F) heat index. It’s time for lunch. The humidity in the field mixed with the heat takes its toll. Workers are in desperate need of water and a break under the almost nonexistent shade. The water is too far off in a truck or even in another field, miles off. Their cars are their best bet to find shade away from the extreme heat or even next to the unsafe parked tractors.
Every year hundreds of farmworkers suffer from various heat related illnesses, most of the time these are not documented. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, approximately 208 deaths directly attributable to hot weather conditions occurred each year in the U.S. between 1979 and 2002. However, this data does not represent the reality or the extent of the problem. When including deaths for extreme heat exposure, the number of heat‐related deaths went up to 668 per year. The mortality rates from heat stroke averages among 10% to 20%, in other words, hundreds or thousands of workers die from heat stroke. Heat illness is and should be a substantial health concern in the US.
While many advocate groups and some government agencies are putting emphasis on this issue, it does not seem to be enough. To see a real change, it is vital to make more aggressive, logical and realistic laws to protect workers. Then to reinforce the law, and educate agricultural workers and growers.
In the meantime, AFOP Health & Safety Programs offers Heat Stress Prevention training to farmworkers and growers in order to reduce the number of workers suffering from a heat related illness. Educating the workers is important so they can identify and recognize the symptoms and take the proper precautions. However, educating the growers on how to make a preventive plan that includes providing adequate potable water and creating shaded areas where workers can go to take frequent, short rest breaks is important as well. Heat Stress Prevention Training is offered year round to farmworkers and during the week of July 17-23 its importance is focused during AFOP Health & Safety’s Heat Stress Prevention Training Marathon.
If you are a farmworker o know a farmworker please share this heat stress prevention mobile application. Download here.
The App allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their work-site, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. With a simple “click,” you can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions.
The OSHA Heat Tool is available in Spanish for Android and iPhone devices. To access the Spanish version on the iPhone, set the phone language setting to Spanish before downloading the app.
Stay informed and safe in the heat, check your risk level.