Jul 3, 2024
Farmworker heat-related illness toolkit available

Two organizations are working to help farmworkers better cope with oppressive heat.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) have partnered to create an online toolkit to help protect agricultural workers from the summer heat.

Last year’s sweltering summer temperatures convinced SCCAHS leadership that additional promotion about heat-related illness education could save lives. Even before the summer ended, the center launched a collaborative effort with the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education to assemble an online guide for agricultural educators.

“We know Florida’s farm workers, as well as others working in the agriculture industry, are really vulnerable to these hot conditions,” Ashley McLeod-Morin, SCCAHS associate director of strategic communication, said in a news release. “We felt offering resources to educate our workers and those supervising workers was really important.”

UF University of Florida IFAS logo

The online toolkit includes webinars, podcasts and communication materials targeted for use by UF/IFAS Extension offices as well as by commodity associations.

A heat safety plan template helps organizations adopt procedures for monitoring the heat index, for providing hydration and for training staff.

Printable guides in English and Spanish advise about the length of work acclimation periods as well as about the amount of water workers should drink.

A 2018 study examining hydration and kidney injury among 192 agricultural workers laboring in Pierson, Apopka and Immokalee, Florida, during the summers of 2015 and 2016 found about 55% of workers experienced dehydration before their shift, 81% experienced dehydration after their shift and 33% experienced acute kidney injury on at least one of the 555 workdays included in the study, according to the release.

In September, a 26-year-old man working for a private company on a Belle Glade sugar cane farm died from heatstroke just a few days after starting his job.

McLeod-Morin expects the SCCAHS toolkit to grow with additional resources over time.

“We really hope this is a living repository and resource we can continue to add to, including more resources in Spanish and in other languages as well,” she said.

The mission of UF/IFAS is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

Megan Winslow is in UF-IFAS communications.

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