Take Care of Humans in the “Hog Days of Summer"!

Do not overlook your own needs while working in extreme hot or cold weather conditions.

girl with pony tail drinking water at sunset
Photo source: https://blog.adventisthealthcare.com/2017/07/13/beat-the-heat-exhaustion-vs-heat-stroke/

As farmers, we understand the extra efforts required to keep our animals content in hot and cold weather conditions, but sometimes we overlook the same needs for ourselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farmworkers die from heat-related illness at a rate 20 times greater than that of the entire U.S. civilian workforce. Yet, with appropriate steps, heat-related illness is preventable, and fatalities are easily avoided.   

Under Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program that includes:

  • Providing workers with water, rest and shade. At the minimum, employees should be allowed one 15-minute break for each four hours worked, plus a half hour lunch break after five hours of work.  This rest is especially important when working long hours without shade.
  • Allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • A plan for emergencies and for training workers on prevention.
  • Monitoring workers for signs of illness.

Additionally, you may want to consider cultivating a culture of safety. Clearly communicate to your family and employees that their safety is important to the overall success of the farm. Safety concerns include taking extra precautions in extreme heat to keep all people productive and comfortable. If your employees aren’t bringing water bottles to work, have some readily accessible or ensure that they have access to a water source and have permission to replenish as necessary.

You may want to save the information in the table below to ensure that everyone is aware of heat emergencies and is watching for signs of over exertion, which includes heat rash.

 

Heat Rash

Heat Cramps

Heat Exhaustion

Heat Stroke

Symptoms

Red or pink rash found on body areas covered by clothing. A fine, bumpy, itchy rash, skin burning, and a "prickly" feeling, thus also known as prickly heat.

Muscle pain and tightness, especially in the elderly, small children, overweight people, or those who have been drinking alcohol.

Heavy sweating,

accompanied by cold, clammy skin.

Fast, weak pulse.

Nausea or vomiting.

Muscle cramps.

Tired/weakness.

Dizziness.

Headache

Pale/flushed face.

Muscle cramps.

All the symptoms of heat exhaustion, plus:

Body temperature over 104°F, confusion, irrational behavior or hallucinations, rapid, shallow breathing, seizures or loss of consciousness, and

dry skin.

Cause

Skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Friction on the surface of the skin

Loss of body salts and fluid during sweating.

Too much physical activity in hot weather when the body cannot cool itself adequately.  Being confined or trapped in a place that heats up. Dehydration with water loss from excessive sweating

Treatment

Apply a small amount of talcum powder or corn starch to the affected areas. Keep apple cider vinegar, hydrocortisone cream, or an antihistamine like Benadryl on hand for the itch. Avoid greasy ointments.

Rehydrate with water or Tonic Water, which contains Quinine.

.

Stop the activity and allow the affected person to rest in a cool place, get in front of a fan,  into an air-conditioned building or to shade.

Drink cool fluids (water or sports drinks only).

Loosen clothing and

cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs.

Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.

Do not require worker to return to work that day.

 

Call 911. This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately.

While waiting for help, place worker in shady, cool area, remove unnecessary clothing,

Blow fan air on worker; place cold packs in armpits, wet

worker with cool water or apply ice packs, if available

Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible.

Stay with worker until help arrives.

Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious and require immediate action. Call 911 or get the affected person to the emergency room if heat illness is causing vomiting, seizures, or unconsciousness. Symptoms and signs can mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions. 

Water, rest and shade can prevent many emergencies, for more information, visit https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/heat_illnesses.html. The most important ways to ensure your staff is, communicate your concern for the safety and well-being of all staff, provide resources for prevention, and adjust schedules when possible to avoid the heat this summer.

For maximizing your human capital, call Kristine at 517.974.5697. Emails inquiries are also welcome at kristine@knowledgenavigators.com. 

Editor’s Note:  Kristine Ranger is a lifelong educator and advocate for agriculture.  She has degrees in Animal Husbandry and A.N.R.E. from Michigan State University and a Masters in Adult Education from South Dakota State University.  While at MSU, she worked at the MSU Swine Barns and has delivered lessons in classrooms, board rooms, arenas, and barns for over 27 years.  She consults with farm owners to increase their leadership, team and organizational effectiveness. 

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