August tends to be one of the hottest times of the year. While many are cooling off in air conditioned buildings or swimming pools, there are many yet that work in these hot seasons outside. Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat. Heat illness can be deadly, and these illnesses and deaths are completely preventable.
Workers who are exposed to these hot or humid conditions are at a high risk of heat illness. The risk increases if they are doing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective gear or equipment. In addition to this, newer workers are at an elevated risk because they are not used to working in such conditions. Employers need to take steps to help acclimate workers who will be working in heat.
The best way to acclimate workers is to consider the weather, workload, and condition of the workers and adjust work practices as needed. Encourage your workers to drink plenty of water, take breaks as needed, provide shade or cool off areas, and monitor the temperature and workers status hourly to make sure they aren’t getting overheated. Train your workers and supervisors how to control heat stress and to recognize the symptoms of heat illness.
To protect themselves, farm workers should be prepared, educated, and take the proper safety precautions to prevent heat related illnesses. As the employer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have all farm workers had training to prevent, recognize, and treat heat related illness?
- Is there a plan for adjusting work schedules to ensure workers have sufficient breaks to prevent over-exerting themselves?
- Is there access to shade or cool resting locations?
- Is there a plan to have water readily available for the workers?
- Are workers being encouraged to drink one cup of water every fifteen to twenty minutes?
- Can workers explain their location if they need to seek medical attention?
- Are workers gradually increasing their exposure time in hot environmental conditions over a set time period?
- Are workers encouraged to watch out for one another for heat related illness symptoms?
It is important to remember that the higher the temperatures, the higher the humidity, direct sun, heavy workloads, and workers who are older or not unaccustomed to heat are more likely to become ill from heat. Make sure that your workers are drinking water, even when they are not thirsty, they are getting rest periods in cool areas, and they are watching for heat illness symptoms.
If any of your workers do show signs of heat related illness, call 911 immediately and move the worker to a cool, shady location until help arrives. Provide fans and ice to help cool the worker down and if they are able, provide cool drinking water. Make sure the worker is not left unattended until help arrives.
Farming is a profession where much of the work occurs outside and because of that farm workers can be exposed to extreme temperatures. Summer heat and humidity are vigorous weather conditions farm workers must face. Make sure to take steps to protect both yourself and your workers from the dangers of the summer sun.