When we think of weather affecting farmworkers, our minds typically jump to high temperatures and heat-related illnesses. However, recently with the wacky weather that the country has been experiencing we have to talk about the opposite: health effects of cold stress. Regions of the country that are unaccustomed to the frigid temperatures are no longer safe from Old Man Winter, and farmworkers need to be prepared.
|· “Extreme Cold”|
|· Wind Chill|
As temperatures drop below normal and wind speeds ramp up, the potential for detrimental health problems increases, as heat leaves the body more rapidly. This is especially true if we consider that farmworkers in these regions are not prepared to deal with huge temperature fluctuations. Personal factors can put farmworkers at risk for cold stress, like lack of proper attire and the knowledge to protect against the freeze.
|· Dressing improperly (including wetness/dampness of clothing)|
|· Poor physical conditioning/ physical exhaustion|
|· Preexisting health conditions|
Cold stress is what happens to the body when it is unable to maintain its normal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The outcome can be cold-related illness and/or injury that in the most serious cases could result in death. When a farmworker is working in a cold environment for too long, his or her body works harder to maintain a normal body temperature: depleting the body of heat. Over time during cold exposure, the body begins diverting blood from the extremities to the core. When this happens, exposed skin and extremities cool rapidly increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. In cold environments, the key is to keep core body temperature at its average of 98.6 degrees.
WHAT TO WEAR:
- Breathable fabrics (those that keep perspiration from being trapped on the skin) that do not impede circulation or movement
- Layers to allow for adjustment in changing weather conditions or excess body heat from exertion
- Hats or hoods to decrease heat escaping from the head, preferably a knit cap with face and ear protection
- Insulated, waterproof boots
- Water-resistant, insulated gloves
AFOP Health & Safety recommends that employers train their workers on cold stress and how recognize the signs and symptoms of cold-related hazards, such as frostbite and hypothermia. However, for farmworkers, three things to keep in mind when working outdoors are:
be mindful of temperature, wind, and moisture;
limit exposure to the cold, and take breaks to warm up;
and keep an eye on your co-workers – watching for signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses.