Taken from the 2Q-2012 edition of Thrive Magazine
Exposure to heat and sun can result in serious health problems for anyone; but agricultural workers, by the very nature of their jobs, are especially vulnerable. “We get calls every year asking about heat exhaustion and skin cancer,” says Charlotte Halverson, occupational health and safety nurse at the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa. “In ag, you’re subject to whatever the weather throws at you. In high temperatures and high humidity, you need to be aware.”
For ag workers, compensation claims related to those issues are among the highest of any occupation, and agriculture has one of the highest rates of skin cancer of any work environment. These are serious –potentially fatal-ailments, so prevention is essential.
The good news is that taking a few precautions for heat and sun management will fulfill several goals at once: protecting employee health, improving safety and increasing productivity.
Create a Plan
Managers and supervisors can help prevent sun and heat related problems by following a few key steps:
“You will always see a farmer with a hat,” says Judy Garrett, Health Services Manager for Syngenta. “You won’t see them out there shirtless; they’re often wearing long sleeves.” Choose clothing that is light-colored and comfortable, and a ventilated, wide-brimmed, sun-safe hat. Both clothing and hat should be made of tightly woven fabric.
“Our farm employees wear several layers of clothing all year round,” says Linda Huggins, Health and Safety Director for Harvey Fertilizer & Gas Co. in Kinston, NC. “The additional layers during the summer hold moisture in and keep them cooler than wearing a single layer.”
Pesticide handlers and early-entry workers have to wear even more clothing than other farm employees because of the protective gear their work requires. This puts them even more at risk for heat-related ailments. In fact, the EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard requires that these workers be “instructed in the prevention, recognition and first-aid treatment of heat illness and that they not be allowed or directed to perform handling or early-entry activities unless appropriate measures are taken.”
All outdoors workers should protect exposed skin with sunscreen, one with at least 30 SPF and both UVA and UVB protections; and reapply frequently. They also should us lip balm with SPF.
And don’t forget the eyes. “In the past, we didn’t think much about eye protection,” Garrett says. “But in recent years, we have learned that it is just as important to protect the eyes from the sun as it is to protect the skin.” Sunglasses or safety glasses worn outside need to offer UVA and UVB protection.
Acknowledge Problems Early:
Once a person becomes overheated, it takes 30 minutes, at least, to slowly restore normal temperatures. “It’s important that body temperature be reduced gradually by getting in the shade and cooling down with a fan or minimal air conditioning,” Huggins says. “You can also cool down by applying cool water to pressure points: around the neck, the wrist or groin area. And if an employee experiences heat-related illness never allow that employee to drive himself or herself away from the work area.”
Know the Hazards and their Symptoms:
Hazards include heat exhaustion, heat stroke, sunburn, and skin cancer. In the case of heat exhaustion, recognition of the early symptoms - dizziness, irritability and impaired judgment - is key to keeping it from progressing to heat stroke, which can be deadly.
Communicate about the hazards and symptoms with your employees often. Remind them about heat and sun precautions in a variety of ways, such as posters, guest speakers and email blasts.
“In the old days, they took salt tabs,” says Garrett. “That’s not necessary, but you should drink water not carbonated drinks.” Also, avoid excessive caffeine.
Harvey Fertilizer & Gas Co. provided water and sports drinks to employees. “Not only is it important to provide these drinks, it’s equally important to stress the correct way to keep hydrated. Drink small amounts of liquid continually all day long, versus large amounts of liquid at one time,” says Huggins.
“The subject of heat and sun related ailments should be part of any safety training and education,” Garret says. Syngenta revisits the subject with employees every year as part of its wellness program, with regular reminders given throughout the spring and summer. “We provide educational materials to employees if they’re going out in the field,” Garrett says. “Our large work sites have annual skin-care clinics.”
Halverson suggests bringing in speakers, such as local doctors or pharmacists, to work sites at the start of the season. “It’s human nature,” she says. “If you bring in someone from the outside, people will listen to them.”
Such efforts will help keep employees healthy and can boost company morale, Halverson adds. “You’re telling them they are cared about,” she says. “That goes a long way toward good employee/employer relationships.”
For More Information: