The uncertainty that a community faces during hardship can undermine the sense of normalcy. Since Mid-March, COVID-19 has turned everything on its head. And, as we reconcile our then normal to this now way of life, AFOP Health & Safety upholds a meticulous decontamination routine in order to limit exposure to all pathogens among our communities and farmworker families.
Regular, rigorous handwashing, wearing gloves and makeshift masks, and showering/bathing immediately upon coming home so that workers may embrace loved ones, were our standard recommendations before the pandemic, and now we emphasize them more than ever as a way to avoid the coronavirus. For many Farmworkers, these ‘best practices’ are the conventions of rural living. The “pesticides found in the air, on the leaves, in the dirt, and on fruits and vegetables,” are ubiquitous to the large-scale cultivation and harvesting phases of production. Consequently, well before and long after we find resolution to this global health crisis, agricultural workers and their families will have to maintain constant vigilance against pesticides and other hazards, too.
Sprayed over crops to control invasive weeds, rodents, and disease, pesticide residues can linger in the air and on skin and clothes. They may feel sticky or appear as fine powder. The EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) states that, “on other occasions, you may not see the residues, but that does not mean they are not there” (much like the coronavirus). According to AFOP training content, “some studies have shown that years of pesticide exposure is linked to several types of cancer, including testicular, brain, bladder, kidney, and blood cancers like Leukemia.”
Farmworkers are trained to practice safe handling and to recognize the potential for illness. Outreach initiatives and campaigns keep farmworkers empowered and informed beyond the fields and in the home. If (and that’s a big if) farmworkers are given the protective equipment, labor protections, and safety training they need, they will work to beat this virus the same as every other hazard they manage daily in the fields.
Cursed as the circumstances may seem, we will emerge with clarity and insight. As businesses reopen and once we eventually (hopefully!) get a vaccine, we will resume normalcy with a greater appreciation for the agricultural community, recalling a time when we overcame adverse conditions – an experience shared with the farmworkers. In the meantime, AFOP Health & Safety commits itself to continued advocacy and training for farmworkers, in particular via our Limiting (Pesticide) Exposure Around Families curriculum, which educates farmworkers on the pesticide residues that could be carried home after work. Farmworkers have not been given a rest, even during a global pandemic, and they are still denied basic rights that every other American takes for granted. The least we can do is provide them with the supplies and education they need to stay safe.