Farmworkers at high risk during heatwave

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FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) –Scorching temperatures in Central California this week present additional risks for those who labor outdoors, including workers picking the valley’s fruits and vegetables.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, farmworkers die from heat-related illnesses at a rate 20 times greater than that of the entire U.S civilian workforce.

“We know for a fact this is the time when we have most of the injuries, most of the heat illness –exhaustion, strokes –because they are acclimatizing to the changing weather pattern,” said Hernan Hernandez, executive director at the California Farmworker Foundation.

Excessive heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from skin rash and cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The latter could result in death if not treated promptly.

Heat stroke signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat exhaustion symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst, and heavy sweating.

Rob Martin, Rescue Team supervisor for American Ambulance, recommends drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

If called to an emergency, EMT’s will move a patient to an air conditioned room or ambulance, place ice packs under armpits and groin to cool down, and hydrate them.

Meanwhile, the California Farmworker Foundation is urging workers to get familiar with their company’s heat prevention plan.

“Sometimes farmworkers, they go in at 6 a.m. If it’s gonna be 110 degrees [that day], by 8 am they’re already sweating,” said Hernandez. “One of the most important things that we tell them is to keep hydrated, that they drink water and avoid other liquids that would dehydrate them.

Cal/OSHA guidelines require employers to provide sufficient water, access to shade, and an emergency response procedure, which must be written in English and in the language understood by the majority of employees.

California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction, landscaping and those that spend a significant amount of time working outdoors such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.

Farmworkers concerned about their rights in the workplace can call the foundation’s hotline: 559-710-2000.

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