Ag workers at high risk of heat illnesses

Agriculture workers are 20 times more likely than other workers to die from heat.

Heat deaths are 100 percent preventable with water, rest and shade. Workers in farming, fishing and forestry are at high risk of heat illness because heat builds in the body during hard work. Heat illness occurs when the body can no longer cope and physical and mental functions start to break down. Farmers should be aware that heat stroke occurs when temperatures may not seem abnormally high.

Heat stroke doesn’t only affect you on those 105-degree days. You can be in danger when temperatures are over 80 degrees and humidity is over 75 percent. Acclimate yourself to blistering temperatures and be especially cautious if you work in direct sunlight.

Many heat illnesses are misdiagnosed. By the time workers reach an emergency room, symptoms may resemble those of a heart attack. Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headache, sweaty skin, weakness, cramps, nausea, vomiting and a fast heartbeat. Symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot, dry skin, high temperature, confusion, convulsions and fainting.  NIOSH offers a free app to track the heat index. Download it at cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress.

Suggestions to avoid heat illness:

• Drink water every 15 minutes. Do not wait until you are thirsty. By then, it is too late.

• Rest in the shade to cool down.

• Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.

• Keep an eye on fellow workers and family members. Ask them to watch for you.

• Start working in the heat gradually. Acclimate yourself to the heat.

Find more resources at www.osha.gov/heat.             

Story source: Karen Funkenbusch, Health and Safety specialist