Farmworkers are some of the most forgotten and unacknowledged workers in the United States. The general public has little knowledge of the many challenges agriculture workers face on a daily basis: extremely limited access to health care; poverty incomes; exposure to unhealthy levels of pesticides; vagabond lifestyle; heat related illnesses; lack of representation in society due to language and cultural differences; and for many, the fear of interacting with law enforcers and government officials due to immigration status. Yet we forget that they are the ones responsible for planting and harvesting most of the food eaten both nationally and overseas.
Farmworkers are the backbone of the agricultural sector in the US economy by generating billions of dollars in revenue; but at what cost? In exchange for a well-fed nation, farmworkers offer their life, health, food, dignity, housing, children, clothing, fair pay, and much more. Cesar Chavez said: “It is ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.”
Due to vigorous physical labor, pesticide exposure, and dangerous equipment, agriculture is consistently ranked among the top three most hazardous jobs in the United States. Farmworkers are at great risk of respiratory and dermatological illnesses; dehydration; heat stroke and heat illness; accidents with dire physical impact; as well as chronic muscular/skeletal pain.
Many assume farm work is a low-skill occupation, it is not. Farmworkers perform a variety of tasks with speed and precision including working industrial machinery to the detail work of picking raspberries while trying not to be scratched by thorns. They often work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, most receiving payment based upon a per piece rate that relies on speed and precision. Having programs that offer them tools to better protect themselves while helping them work at a maximum rate is vital.
AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs strive to empower farmworkers to protect themselves against pesticides and heat stress through health and safety education. We provide farmworkerswith relevant, interactive, low literacy and multi-language trainings that are put into practice in their daily routines.
As we continue celebrating the National Farmworker Awareness Week, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs team has joined the national effort by having a long sleeve shirt drive in over 65 locations in 12 states including Puerto Rico. Our goal is to collect at least 1,000 long sleeve shirts by the end of the week. To find where the drop-off locations are, please click here.
Once this week is over, we shouldn’t forget the hard working hands that put food on our tables. To learn more about farmworker health & safety issues click here.
By Melanie Forti