Exposure to heat and sun can result in serious health problems for anyone; agricultural workers, by the very nature of their jobs, are especially vulnerable. Compensation claims related to heat exhaustion and skin cancer in the agricultural sector are among the highest of any occupation. As the long days of summer field work approach, managers and supervisors can help themselves and their employees reduce their risks by reinforcing best practices for heat and sun safety.
“People should take special caution when suddenly going from mild to very hot temperatures, gradually increasing time spent outdoors and workloads,” said Judy Garrett, Health Services Manager for Syngenta. She added, “Don’t expect to accomplish the same amount of work on those first ‘scorching’ days of summer.”
The first step is raising awareness. “The subject of heat and sun-related ailments should be part of every safety training program, with regular reminders given throughout the spring and summer,” said Garrett. To reduce the risk of overexposure to heat and/or sun, Garrett outlined these preventive measures:
- Wear clothing that is light-colored, moisture wicking, and comfortable. Top off with a ventilated, wide-brimmed, sun-safe hat. Both clothing and hat should be made of tightly woven fabric.
- Stay hydrated. Water and sports drinks taken in small amounts all day long are more effective than large amounts of liquid at one time. Avoid excessive caffeine and avoid carbonated drinks.
- Protect exposed skin with sunscreen that provides at least 30 SPF and offers both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply frequently.
“It’s also important to use lip balm with SPF,” said Garrett. “And don’t forget the eyes. In the past, we didn’t think much about eye protection; 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 tinted safety glasses worn outside should offer both UVA and UVB protection.
Once a person becomes overheated, it takes at least 30 minutes to slowly restore normal temperature. “It’s important that body temperature be reduced gradually,” said Garrett. “Get in the shade. Cool down with a fan or minimal air conditioning. You can also cool down by applying cool water to pressure points around the neck, the wrist or groin area.”
For more information, visit these websites:
- EPA’s Guide to Heat Stress in Agriculture nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=20001L0D.txt
- Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Sun Exposure and Protection www.ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5550.html
- U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) Standards for Heat Stress www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress