EC heat stress study aids migrant workers
(July 14, 2004)
Researchers at East Carolina University and the N.C. Agromedicine Institute will soon complete a study that explores how hot weather affects migrant farm workers.
Every year, numerous job-related injuries to agriculture migrant workers are attributed to heat. The four-year study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health aims to identify when temperatures outside make it unsafe for workers. The goal, said North Carolina Agromedicine director John Sabella, is to produce an affordable instrument for farmers to monitor and identify when to take their workers out of the field.
While temperature highs this week push into the 90s, temperatures in the fields are often five to 10 degrees hotter, according to data collected in the study.
Three local farms and about 70 workers, mostly from Mexico, are participating in the study. Throughout the day, workers are checked for dehydration and low blood pressure and are asked a series of questions to assess cognitive functioning in the heat. Researchers also monitor the temperature and humidity throughout the day. Part of the project educates workers about the need to drink more fluids during hot weather and to pay attention to the needs of their body. Often these needs get ignored due to culture and language barriers.
The heat stress study was launched in 2000 following the U.S. Department of Labor’s query into several injuries and a death of a migrant worker in the United States due to heat stroke. Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NIOSH, the latter federal agency has taken over the study’s funding for the past two years.
The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, a multi-campus collaborative program headquartered at East Carolina University, is composed of ECU, N.C. State and N.C. A&T State University.