By Jessica Werder, Health & Safety Senior Program Manager, and Ayrianne Parks, Communications Director
As many of us neared the end of our workweek last Friday, our thoughts turned to how we would stay cool throughout the scorching weekend. Friday was one of the “most extreme” days of heat that we have experienced in the last decade. Fortunately for many of us, our air-conditioned offices provided refuge from the sweltering environment outside. But that’s not the case for everyone in our country. Our nation’s farmworkers continued to work throughout the day Friday and into the weekend, hand harvesting many of the fruits and vegetables we crave on hot summer days, such as watermelon or tomatoes, in triple digit temperatures.
Thursday night, I received an email that made me pause and think about the importance of AFOP member organizations to the health and well being of farmworkers. It was from an employee at Illinois Migrant Council (IMC), AFOP’s member agency in the state of Illinois. In the email, one of our heat stress trainers from IMC discussed training she is doing on heat stress prevention.
Like all AFOP member organizations, IMC provides important services for farmworkers and their families, including job training through the National Farmworker Jobs Program, family services and important programs for farmworker youth. IMC also participates in AFOP’s Proyecto Sol, a heat stress prevention program funded through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Proyecto Sol started in 2009 with the hopes of providing vital information on heat stress prevention to individuals working in farmwork. To date, the program has trained over 4,000 farmworkers and over 100 employers in ten states on heat stress prevention.
Thursday’s email was inspirational on this front. Working with a large agricultural employer in central Illinois, IMC trainers reached over 400 farmworkers on heat stress prevention just that day. The employer, recognizing the hazards of the current heat wave, had contacted IMC to provide heat stress training to all of their agricultural employees, throughout the state.
The effort underscores how uniquely poised AFOP member agencies are to provide farmworkers with this type of training. As long standing organizations in their communities, AFOP members capitalize on and leverage key relationships, allowing them to reach thousands of individual farmworkers on an annual basis with important services and information. Heat stress prevention training is one such service.
Reading the email again this morning, I noticed the following statement, referencing attendees at the IMC trainings yesterday: “Everyone commented that prevention is the key to trying to stay healthy these couple of weeks and [in] the weeks to come with this heat wave.” According to the trainer, “I honestly believe [that] Proyecto Sol saved some lives. I was very proud of [us].”
AFOP member organizations change lives every day. Some days, they actually save them. As you sit inside, in the air conditioning this week, take a moment to think about the lives of those individuals working in our fields.