Commentary: Stay vigilant on heat safety, especially during the spring


Issue Date: May 28, 2014
By Bryan Little
Bryan Little
Vigilance on heat safety is important throughout the year, and particularly so during early-season hot spells.

Each spring, California farmers and ranchers find themselves facing unseasonably warm temperatures that remind all of us of the need to be sure we and our employees work safely on hot days.

Last week, the Sacramento Valley experienced its first 90-degree weather of the season, and more is sure to come. We seem to experience a springtime heat wave each year that reminds anew that high temperatures can be a real occupational health hazard for everyone working outdoors, especially farmers, ranchers and their employees.

While vigilance on heat illness is important all year round, it's particularly important to be careful during early-season hot spells, when people haven't yet gotten used to warm temperatures. For example, subscribers to the Farm Employers Labor Service received the first email notification of the 2014 heat season on April 28 and another on May 15, and the feature article in the May FELS Newsletter is "Heat Season is Here."

FELS, the California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations work in cooperation with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health—Cal/OSHA—to make sure we're effectively educating farmers, ranchers and their employees about working safely out of doors on hot days.

The basics are easy to summarize: water, shade, rest, timing and training.

  • Be sure to provide suitably cool, fresh water and single-use cups, and encourage employees to drink water frequently.
  • Provide a shaded area sufficient to shelter 25 percent of a work crew at any one time.
  • Provide employees with opportunities to rest and enough time to acclimatize to heat, especially for new employees or during a sudden heat spell.
  • Shift work hours to times earlier or later in the day when temperatures are cooler.
  • Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention. Have a written heat illness-prevention program and make sure it's available for a Cal/OSHA inspector to review.

FELS and other farm groups have organized training sessions around the state this spring—as we have every year for the past five years—to make sure farmers, supervisors, farm labor contractors and farm employees have the tools and training they need to stay safe. Thousands of people have undergone the training, and we're seeing results.

Officials from Cal/OSHA consistently tell us farmers and ranchers are making a solid effort to protect their workers and comply with the law. But each year is different and brings its own challenges. That's why it's important every spring to re-check your heat illness-prevention plans, make sure to have effective communications systems in place, do refresher training for your workers and supervisors, and take advantage of the information resources available.

You can find heat-safety information at a number of online locations, including the CFBF Rural Health and Safety page at www.cfbf.com/rhs/ and the FELS website at www.fels.net; at the FELS site, look for information under the Labor & Safety tab at the top of the page.

During the summer, the CFBF Rural Health and Safety Program will buy Spanish-language radio advertisements in Chico, Fresno, Palm Desert, the Salinas Valley and Sacramento to reinforce heat-safety education, renewing an outreach effort we've undertaken for several years. FELS subscribers will continue to receive email updates when weather forecasters issue heat advisories.

We'll also continue to work with state regulators to coordinate efforts and to look for additional ways to smooth compliance with California heat-safety regulations. As farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations, we have accepted our responsibility to take comprehensive, coordinated efforts to assure and maintain safety on hot days. We've seen success from those efforts.

But that work must continue every day on every farm and ranch. Each of us as individuals must take responsibility for our own preparation and must be sure our fellow farmers, ranchers and employees do what's needed to stay safe.

Cal/OSHA has already launched its summer Heat Illness Prevention Standard compliance program to assure compliance with state heat-safety regulations. The agency has made enforcement of the regulations a priority.

Farm work is hard work, and sometimes it's hot work, but it must also be safe work. The hot season is upon us and can flare up at any time. Be aware and be prepared.

(Bryan Little is director of labor affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service. He may be reached at blittle@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.