Quite literally, shade could mean the difference between life and death for farmworkers. Yet there is no federal heat protection law that would enforce farmworkers’ rights to breaks taken in the shade. With temperatures on the rise, no one is exempt from the extreme heat we’ve all been experiencing over the last decade. But for farmworkers, that heat can be deadly as they work in direct sunlight or in hot, humid environments where shade is nowhere to be found.
“Water-Rest-Shade” is OSHA’s motto for their heat stress prevention campaign for outdoor workers, and it’s AFOP Health & Safety Programs’ constant reminder to farmworkers, especially during our heat stress prevention training marathon. During this week of awareness, our trainers focus their efforts on making sure farmworkers are educated on the signs, symptoms, and first aid for heat-related illnesses.
Ideally, farmworkers nationwide would be provided and encouraged to drink 1-quart of water per hour and given access to shade for rest periods to cool down. However, as it currently stands, California is the only state that has heat protection standards. Although no federal law exists, a number of farmworker organizations have signed on in support of one, and individual states are introducing bills that address heat stress standards. Maryland’s bi-cameral legislature recently passed a bill (yet to be signed by the governor) that would prompt Maryland’s OSH office to issue a heat standard for that state by October 2022 – one more win for farmworkers in what has been a very long fight for standardized protections from the heat.
As it stands now, the only protection that all farmworkers have, nationwide, is the OSH Act of 1970, which states that employers have a duty to protect workers from recognized serious hazards in the workplace, including outdoor production areas. With outdoor workers dying from heat-related illnesses every year, this is simply not enough.