Summer is more than just “busy-season” for farmers, it’s also the peak season for heat illness in agriculture. Heat stress prevention is crucial on the farm, and it should be top of mind when workers are performing their duties on a hot summer day.
Having the proper training in place is one of the best ways you can protect your workers from heat stress. Understanding how to recognize symptoms of heat illness is an important skill workers and supervisors should be familiar with.
Step 1: Know the Signs
Heat Exhaustion Vs. Heatstroke
Heat exhaustion is marked by cool skin that is pale and clammy, dizziness, headaches, cramps, nausea/vomiting, weakness, confusion, and unconsciousness. It is caused by dehydration and loss of the salts and electrolytes that the body needs to function.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency where the body is unable to cool itself at all. Characteristics of heatstroke include skin that is hot and dry, a high body temperature, changes in behavior like confusion or anger, chills, nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, convulsions, and delirium. Heatstroke could even cause death if not treated.
*If you believe a worker is experiencing a heat-stroke, contact the paramedics immediately. Be sure to move them to a cool area and provide plenty of fluids. It is advised to try to cool the person by applying cool water to their skin while you wait for paramedics to arrive.
Step 2: Conduct Proper Prevention Techniques
These heat precautions are a good way to mitigate heat illnesses on the farm:
- Plan 15-minute breaks in a cooled area or shade for every two hours of work.
- Drink one cup of water for every 15 to 30 minutes working in the heat.
- Avoid eating or drinking caffeine and sugary items because they increase dehydration.
- Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose clothing.
- Schedule strenuous work, or that which requires personal protective equipment, for the morning and evening hours.
- Take a break at the hottest part of the day.
- Gradually adjust to working in the heat.
Step 3: Monitor and Adjust Workloads
Each day is different on the farm. Sometimes it is necessary to avoid hot and humid conditions altogether for the safety of your workers. Young children, elderly and those with health issues are more susceptible to heat stress in agriculture settings.
Take into account the forecast, workload and condition of your workers, and adjust work practices accordingly.
The financial health of your agribusiness is important, but the physical health of workers on the farm is vital for operations to run smoothly. As you prepare for the busy season, be sure to familiarize your workers with heat illness prevention measures.