The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has alerted farm employers to keep a close eye on workers in the recent and ongoing heat and humidity in Michigan.
“It’s that time of year to reacclimate working during hot summer months by continually reassessing and preparing for the dangers of heat-related illnesses to keep workers safe,” MIOSHA said in a press release. “Many employers are responsible for protecting workers from extreme heat by establishing a complete heat illness prevention program.”
Michigan’s most recent extreme heat and humidity came at a good time over the Independence Day holiday, but farmers need to take preventative measures and perhaps even adjust worker schedules for safety, said Craig Anderson, manager of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Labor and Safety Services.
“The most oppressive heat and humidity came during a time when work was a bit more limited due to the holiday, but when you look at farm worker injuries, heat-related injuries may be one of the most under-reported illnesses over the 30 years I’ve been doing this,” he said. “There’s really no written standard on it, but there is good guidance from MIOSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Center for Disease Control. I use and recommend the National Weather Service (NWS) app/site, which is a very good tool.
“I have many farms that have seen a warning pop up on the app, and recommend in some cases that farmer look at changing work schedules, adjust the amount of water available, increase breaks, and most important, simply making sure no one is showing signs of distress.”
Too often, warning signs of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and to a lesser extent, headache, nausea and dizziness, comes from employees after they have already suffered overexposure to the elements, MIOHSA said. “Monitoring the heat index is an important pre-emptive tool that can be used toward implementing additional preventive options (i.e., more water and rest breaks, shade, rescheduling non-essential work, etc.),” MIOSHA said.
Even in cases where workers don’t recognize the heat stress they’re under, Anderson said the first thing farmers have to understand is the known risk factor.
“At 85 degrees, give or take, there are risk issues that can be identified by the NWS chart,” he said. “It’s color-coded and is a logarithm of heat and humidity.”
MIOSHA invites farmers to take a look at the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App. This app is available for both Android and iPhone, and is a collaborative effort between OSHA and NIOSH to help combat heat sickness. Both supervisors and workers can access life-saving information on when to take precautions on a hot day at the worksite.
“This extremely useful resource helps employers plan outdoor work activities based on how hot it feels throughout the day. It features real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to the work location, as well as precautionary occupational safety and health recommendations, signs and symptoms, and first aid information for heat-related illnesses,” MIOSHA said.
When workers don’t recognize their own distress, Anderson said, it’s up to the employer to recognize it and takes steps for their safety.
“For example, it’s not enough just to have extra water available,” he said. “The farm employer has to be sure the workers are drinking it.”
A lot of potential problems can be avoided simply by paying attention to the workers and the weather, he said.
“Scheduling picking from 6 a.m. to 11, then again from 6 p.m. to dark can help, but I understand that some operations can’t change their schedules,” he said. “Tart cherries are one that if the (processing) plant is open, you pick unless it is so hot the fruit gets too soft to run through the pitters. There are other types of aid such as cool shirts that can be found at https://www.grainger.com/category/cooling-vests-and-jackets/workwear/safety/ecatalog/N-19fd
“The dry evaporative cooling vests are pricey but work very well,” Anderson said. “The Cold Water Immersion Cooling Vests are economical, but I found them to be less effective over a 16-hour day, even though they are rated for 24+ hours. Due to economic considerations though, these tend to be the employer-purchased versions.”
Anderson said employers should also pay attention to workers in the tractor cab.
“Modern cabs may have air, but older ones don’t, so you’ll want to make certain that in the enclosed cab, at least the fans are functioning,” he said. “If you look at the cab on 3020, which is a common older tractor, there may be no insulation at all. It’s just a metal box, and that’s where I have seen some of most significant risk factors.”
For more information, Visit the OSHA webpage and the NIOSH webpage for more information on how to stay safe while working in the heat.