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Keeping your crew safe in the heat

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator, food safety

Safety on the farm starts with a safe, healthy workforce. Your employees, volunteers, family and anyone working on your operation should know the signs of heat-related illness during very hot spells like we have had recently, and you should take some basic precautions to ensure everyone stays healthy. Here are some resources to help manage heat and workers on the farm.

photo Associate of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

The signs of heat-stress are as follows:

(information below from Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs)

What is heat - stress? When our body cannot get rid of excessive heat, a range of heat-related illnesses, from skin rash and cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can result. These illnesses can result in death if prompt medical attention is not provided.

  • Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.

  • Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.

  • Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

  • Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

Heat stress prevention is very important to keep in mind as the summer temperatures rise and the harvest season picks up around the country.   Working in the fields under the full sun at 90° F and up is the main factor contributing to heat stress, but other factors can come into play such as age, fitness level, pre-existing medical conditions, heavy machinery, pesticides, and humidity, among others. 

Farmworkers can prevent a heat-related illness by taking a few simple steps such as drinking water, taking small breaks, and being in the shade.

Prevention is very important to avoid this kind of health disaster. In other words, prevention is extremely important to maintaining healthy wellbeing.  It is vital to remember these three simple words: Water, Rest, and Shade. 

Here are some helpful resources on identifying and preventing heat-related illness on the farm:

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