Knowing and Preventing Heat Stress Under Agricultural Environment

According to the weather forecast, there were 21 days with the highest temperature above 90 F in Miami-Dade County in May.  It will get even warmer when the summer season comes. Though the shipping season of ornamental crops is closing to its end, many workers are still working outside in the nurseries during the hot summer. Knowing how to protect yourself when you work under hot and humid conditions is very important for workers, and their supervisors as well.

On June 4, an educational class on heat stress in agricultural environments was given at the extension office in both English and Spanish by the safety expert Ricardo Davalos from FDACS, who is the coordinator for the Agricultural Workers Safety Program. Here are some of the highlights from the class:

  • Heat exhaustion could lead to the death of a worker if not responded properly (Naples Daily News, May 19, 2016).
  • Fundamentals of heat stress
    • High temperature + high humidity + physical work creates heat stress on the human body
    • Personal conditions, including age, fitness level, medication used, and pregnancy, could affect your performance
    • Stages of heat stress development
      • Early minor symptoms: headache, dizziness.
      • Red spots on the skin.
      • Muscle cramp: painful spasm of leg, arm, and abdominal muscles.
      • Exhaustion: fatigue, loss of coordination, pale moist skin, fast pulse.
      • Heat stroke: nausea, incoherent speech, possible unconsciousness.
    • What to do when symptoms of heat stress-related illness occur:
      • Stop working
      • Move to a cool place and rest
      • Drink water, better slightly salted water if available
      • When the late stages occur suddenly, call 911 immediately besides doing the steps mentioned above, cool the person’s body with water (no cold water on the head), and lift the feet above the heart if unconscious
    • What workers can prepare for working under hot conditions
      • Wear light-colored protective clothing
      • Drink plenty of water before work, not drinks with a lot of sugar and soda, and no alcohol.
      • Take more frequent rest and water breaks during work
      • Report any uncomfortable feelings of your body immediately to the supervisor
      • Keep an eye on coworkers nearby if possible
    • What supervisor and management personnel can help
      • Arrange the work according to the weather, starting early if possible and avoiding afternoon hours at all
      • Schedule more rests and water breaks
      • Let crew work in small groups if possible and check on their activities and performance more often
      • Have supplies, such as water and lightly salted water, close to the workers
      • Pay close attention to the following workers
        • New hires, people just coming back from illness, or absent for more than 2 weeks
        • People with intense workloads, particularly at remote areas
        • People in enclosed greenhouses
        • People using PPE
        • Seek medical help if it happens to a pesticide handler or applicator

Training of workers will help them prepare for work under hot conditions. The lessons from past incidents indicate that preparedness and proper response from supervisors and employers to this aspect can help prevent the occurrence of a tragedy. We hope we all work together and get the work done safely every day during the summer and enjoy a peaceful evening with our loved ones.



Posted: June 7, 2024

Category: Agriculture, , Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Agricultural Workers, Heat Stress, Ornamental Crop Production, Safety Training

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