Farmworkers and Heat Stress – What you should know

28 Jul 2023, Posted by admin in News, Science and Environmental Issues, Uncategorized, Weather

Preventing Heat Stress

The summer months can bring extreme temperatures, so employers must account for this when their employees are working in hot conditions. When the body is unable to cool itself by sweating, several heat –induced illnesses such as heat stress and heat exhaustion can occur causing serious effects including death in extreme cases. Currently several states have adopted heat stress regulations and the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health administration (OSHA) is currently preparing regulations to address heat-stress. New Jersey does not have specific heat-stress regulations so employers would be subject to OSHA oversight.  Although there is no specific federal regulation for heat stress, employers should take preventative measures because OSHA could still take action under their “general duty clause” if an employer is found to be negligent and a worker is significantly sickened or dies from heat exhaustion. 

There are a number of factors that can lead to heat induced illness such as high temperature, high humidity, physical exertion, poor physical health and some medications.  When these conditions exist it becomes important that growers or crew leaders watch for signs of illness when working in the heat. 

These are some symptoms that often indicate the presence of heat stress.

  • Headaches dizziness, light headedness or fainting
  • Weakness and moist skin
  • Mood changes such as irritability or confusion
  • Upset stomach or vomiting Symptoms of heat stroke
  • Dry hot skin with no sweating.
  • Mental confusion or losing consciences
  • Seizures and convulsions

The best method for dealing with heat stress is to implement preventative steps.   Make sure workers have adequate amount of potable water at the ratio of about 4-8oz. of water or sports drinks every 15 minutes.  Employers should be very cautious of caffeinated drinks that are common today, as they can make a person more susceptible to heat stress. Adjust schedules so that most strenuous occupations are performed in the cooler parts of the day such as morning and evening. Growers will also want to make sure they are aware as well as their foreman know what to look for regarding the early symptoms of heat stress.

USDOL, OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed an app for iPhone and androids that assist in the prevention of heat-stress. The App allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. There is an option to set 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. This is all available with a few clicks on a smartphone. OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool on the App Store (apple.com)

For more information about safety while working in the heat, see OSHA’s heat illness webpage, including online guidance about using the heat index to protect workers.

This is a website for OSHA publications that provide recommendations to prevent heat stress that employers can order or print.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov)

Labor management is important for all farm employers because labor is the most important resource to the agricultural industry.

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