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How to prevent heat stress in farming and landscaping

Farmer with a digital tablet standing in a cornfield in the summer

We're approaching the hottest, most humid part of the summer, putting your workers at ongoing risk for heat stress and severe heat-related illnesses.

"You can take steps now to offset those risks," says Dean Anderson, WSPS' Strategic Advisor, Agriculture. "The key is to give your supervisors and workers the tools, information and flexibility they need to protect themselves and each other."

About heat stress

Heat and humidity are a dangerous mix for outdoor workers. Heat causes the body's internal temperature to rise. Sweating gets rid of that heat, but when the humidity is high sweat won't evaporate and cool the body.

"When you stop sweating, you're in trouble," says Dean. "Your core body temperature could rise, leading to heat stress."

Minimizing heat stress immediately could prevent heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart attack, and other physical health effects.

7 steps to prevention

  1. Ensure workers have easy access to plenty of cool water (drink a cup every 20 minutes) and shade (such as a temporary tent), take breaks every half hour, and wear light, loose clothing and hats. Considering providing water bottles and hats.
  2. Schedule work in the hottest locations for cooler times of day. For instance, on a farm, pick from 6:00 am until noon, take a break, and resume at 4:00 pm.
  3. Deliver refresher training on your heat stress policy and procedures, as well as heat stress symptoms, how to prevent it, and what to do if someone starts showing symptoms. They include fatigue, light headedness, dizziness, blurry vision, trouble focusing, and excessive sweating.
  4. Ensure workers remain acclimatized to hot conditions. De-acclimatization can occur in just four days. 
  5. Hold tailgate talks at the beginning of extremely hot days to review heat stress best practices. Encourage workers to watch out for each other and speak up. People sometimes don't recognize the symptoms in themselves.
  6. Allow workers to slow their pace of work, take rest breaks, and seek shade if they are experiencing early symptoms. Workers who are new, young, older, or have medical conditions are more vulnerable to heat stress.
  7. Have an emergency communications system in place. For example, provide supervisors with cell phones that have emergency numbers already keyed in.

How WSPS can help

Explore our summer safety resources for tips to help you protect the safety of your workers and business throughout the season.