Heat Stress and Rest

By Guillermo Gonzalez, AFOP SAFE AmeriCorps Member

Water, Rest, Shade: these are three things that camels do not require, since they can walk for days in the desert, where there is not only tremendous heat, but almost no access to water or shade. Unfortunately, humans are nothing like camels. As a SAFE AmeriCorps member who trains farmworkers in heat stress prevention, I tell them that if they work hard in the sun without water and without resting in the shade, they can suffer from various symptoms caused by heat stroke. It can even cost them their lives.

Along with pesticide trainings, SAFE AmeriCorps members also do heat stress prevention trainings for farmworkers around the U.S. California, the state where I am a second-year SAFE AmeirCorps member, has understood the importance of creating even stricter regulations than most states to protect farmworkers in the hot summer months. Cal/OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the state of California, passed a series of regulations in 2006 to protect agricultural workers. They require that each farmworker will be provided with at least one liter of water for every hour worked. This water must be fresh, clean, and within a reasonable distance from where the farmworkers are working. It is also required that the crew leaders or supervisors provide shade, so workers are able to rest in a cool place, out of the sun. The shaded area must comfortably accommodate at least 25% of the crew. In addition to water and shade, the law says that if a worker feels ill, he has to be given at least five minutes of rest in the shade.

Water, rest, and shade, are very important for anyone working in the sun. By drinking water, we replace the water our body has lost through sweating. By resting in the shade, a person who has been working is able to get out of the sun for a few minutes, which is usually more than 10 degrees cooler than the temperature in the sun. This will allow their bodies to cool down a little. Also, resting allows the body to recover some energy to continue working.

The problem is that although the law requires that these three things are provided to each farm worker, workers often do not take advantage, as they feel pressured to continue working, instead of taking breaks. Farmworkers should drink two to three cones of water (equivalent to 8 ounces or ¼ liter) every 15 to 20 minutes, and they should take breaks in the shade before they feel sick, to prevent diseases caused by heat.

As a SAFE AmeriCorps member at Proteus, California, I do a lot of heat stress trainings. By sharing this information I hope that farmworkers and employers will realize the importance of taking breaks and drinking water, before it’s too late. I, along with three other SAFE AmeriCorps members at Proteus, California, have pledged to train over 300 farmworkers this week, as part of the Heat Stress Training Marathon. During Heat Stress Awareness Week, and every other week, let us remember the importance of training farmworkers in heat stress prevention so that future tragedies can be prevented.

Guillermo Gonzalez is a second year SAFE AmeriCorps member at Proteus, California. His father is a farmworker and his mother was a stay at home mom. When Guillermo was in high school, his mother  returned to school and obtained her high school diploma. Last December, she graduated with a master’s degree in Spanish. Inspired by his mother’s hard work, Guillermo graduated from California State University, Fresno last May, earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology. He truly enjoys providing farmworkers  with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves from pesticides and the sun. He looks forward to continuing this line of work in the future, as it is very important to teach the farmworker community about the hazards that pesticides and the sun could cause.

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