One area AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs would like to bring attention to during National Farmworker Awareness Week is the issue of serious health problems faced by farmworkers in the United States. Farmworkers have a unique set of health concerns, partially because of the dangerous work they perform, and partially because of the specific health issues immigrants face in this country. Extreme poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers with healthcare providers, lack of transportation, and constant mobility makes it very difficult for farmworkers to have regular health care. Some of the main concerns migrant and seasonal farmworkers face includes:
- Pesticide exposure causes serious health problems among farmworkers such as respiratory problems, dermatological conditions, depression, cancer, neurological disorders, memory problems, and birth defects. In serious cases, pesticide exposure can lead to death.
- Farm work is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Occupational deaths have been found to be six times higher among farmworkers than compared to the average rates in all other industries.
- Non-fatal injuries are the second highest in agricultural work, only exceeded by construction work.
- Farmworkers also suffer from heat-related health issues, such as serious dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and neurological impairment. In serious cases, heat stress can lead to coma and death. Farmworkers are 20 times more likely than other U.S. workers to die from heat stress. (For more information read our previous blog entry about heat stress related deaths and what AFOP is doing to prevent future deaths.)
One way health providers, advocates, and governing bodies aim to counteract these health concerns is by educating the public, employers, and farmworkers on health issues and by enforcing existing health and safety regulations. When enforced, the existing regulations and laws that are in place protect farmworkers from hazardous pesticides, heat-related illnesses, and excessive work that can cause damage to the musculoskeletal system, among other things. As harvesting season is begins, increased efforts are being made to make sure these lifesaving laws and regulations are adhered to. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor is making sure employers are following federal labor laws that preserve farmworkers safety and health by making unannounced visits to farms in South Florida. This spring Wage and Hour Division investigators will check for minimum wage, overtime payments, and limitations on child labor.
Other states have introduced regulations that seek to further protect farmworkers. California is one of the states to introduce laws to prevent heat-related deaths, which includes rules such as requiring a certain amount of time that workers need to spend in the shade on hot days, as well as availability of cool water, and education of heat stress symptoms for employers and workers. A coalition of California farming groups is currently preparing for the hot summer months by doing a series of statewide training workshops for agricultural employers on the 2005 California heat illness prevention law.
At AFOP, we also do our best to continuously improve health and safety curricula for farmworkers and their employers. Through a variety on trainings in pesticide safety and heat-related illnesses, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs inform workers and employers about health issues and give them information to mitigate problems. The newest addition to our program is an annual publication titled The Fields. Each year we will dig deep into a health and safety issue facing farmworker communities today and provide the most up-to-date scientific information to inform the public about the dangers the workers who pick our food face every day. This year’s publication is titled Dangerous Exposure: Farmworker Children and Pesticides and will be available on the AFOP website starting March 31.