176730 Heat stress among farmworkers: A preventable cause of injury and death

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pamela A. Rao, PhD , Farmworker Justice, Washington, DC
Miguel Velez, MA , Farmworker Justice, Washington, DC, DC
Every year, a number of farmworkers die from heat-related illness while working in agricultural fields, and many times that number are injured by heat stress while on the job. This type of occupational heat stress, and the resulting injuries and deaths, can be completely avoided by means of a few straightforward precautions. Heat stress occurs when body heat builds up from both external (e.g., the weather) and internal (e.g., muscle activity) sources. The resulting increase in core body temperature can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and if permitted to continue, to neurological impairment, multi-organ failure, and death. Farmworkers are at elevated risk for heat-related illness because their work involves long hours of highly physical labor, usually in the sun, often with limited access to shade and water. At lower levels, heat stress can cause workers to become fatigued and disoriented, increasing their risk of injury. At higher levels, it can become a life-threatening medical emergency with little advance warning. This presentation will provide an overview of heat-related illness, including recognition and management, and describe ways in which workers can protect themselves on the job. It will also review existing federal and state policies and regulations that require employers to provide adequate water, shade, and breaks to field workers.

Learning Objectives:
1. Recognize the 3 main types of heat stress, including the symptoms and possible health effects. 2. Describe the process by which workers can reduce their vulnerability to heat-related illness (“acclimatization”). 3. Articulate the role of legal protections in reducing illness and deaths among farmworkers from preventable causes.

Keywords: Migrant Farm Workers, Occupational Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: San Diego State University, CA, 2007 M.A. Latin American Studies, focus: Health and disease prevention of migrant workers from Oaxaca, Mexico. Thesis: Farmworkers of California: Changing Demographics and Pesticide Use from 1970 to 2006. Presentations: Overview of pesticide impacts on Mixteco farmworker health. Presented at the Environmental Careers Organization meeting in San Francisco, CA, 2004. Review of current trends in pesticide application and migrant farmworker health disparities. Presented at the Latin American Studies meeting, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, 2005. Overview of HIV/AIDS Stigma Program. Presented at HRSA Ryan White CARE Act Project Officer meeting, Rockville, MD, 2006. HIV/AIDS Stigma Program development discussion and explanation. Presented at Ryan White CARE Act All Grantees Meeting, Washington, DC, 2006. Guest Lecturer for national conference call from JSI on machismo and the Latino community, 2006. Overview of CDC HIV prevention programs. Presented at East Coast Migrant Stream Forum, 2007. Overview of CDC Effective Behavioral Interventions for HIV prevention with migrants and LGBT youth. Presented at United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) and HIV Prevention Leadership Summit (HPLS), 2007.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.