Heat-Related Deaths High Among Crop Workers: CDC

Workers employed in outdoor occupations such as farming are exposed to hot and humid environments that put them at risk for heat-related illness or death. A new report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describes one such death and summarizes heat-related fatalities among crop production workers in the United States during 1992–2006. During this 15-year period, 423 workers in agricultural and nonagricultural industries were reported to have died from exposure to environmental heat; 68 (16 percent) of these workers were engaged in crop production or support activities for crop production.

The heat-related average annual death rate for these crop workers was 0.39 per 100,000 workers, compared with 0.02 for all U.S. civilian workers. Data aggregated into 5-year periods indicated that heat-related death rates among crop workers might be increasing; however, trend analysis did not indicate a statistically significant increase.

CDC notes that prevention of heat-related illness starts with educating employers and workers on the hazards of working in hot environments, including how to prevent, recognize, and treat heat illness, and being prepared to provide and seek medical assistance. This report provides recommendations for employers to start heat stress management programs. A workplace heat stress management program should include such practical interventions as:

  • Heat illness training for all employees,
  • A heat acclimatization program,
  • Proper hydration,
  • Work/rest schedules appropriate for the current heat indices,
  • Access to shade or cooling areas,
  • Monitoring the environment and workers during hot conditions, and
  • Providing prompt medical attention to workers who show signs of heat illness.

Foreign-born crop workers may have special needs such as training and communication in their native language and an acclimatization period, the report notes. To read it in its entirety, visit www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5724a1.htm.

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