Hot Weather Takes Toll on Farmworkers: Study
Many contend with extreme temperatures in sleeping quarters; daytime fatigue could threaten worker safety
Monday, June 17, 2013
"We found that a majority of the workers are not getting much respite from the heat in the evening," study author Sara Quandt, a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a center news release.
"While we didn't measure direct health outcomes, the research raises concern about worker's health related to dehydration and sleep quality, which can, in turn, impact safety and productivity," Quandt said.
She and her colleagues assessed heat levels -- ranging from no danger (less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit) to extreme danger (higher than 115 degrees) -- during the evenings in the common and sleeping rooms in barracks, trailers and houses at 170 farmworker camps in eastern North Carolina during the summer of 2010.
About 55 percent of the farmworkers in the study said they had no air conditioning in their dwelling, 38 percent said they had window air conditioning and 7 percent said they had central air conditioning. Eighty percent of the workers said there were electric fans in their sleeping rooms.
Heat levels exceeded the danger threshold in most of the common and sleeping rooms during the evening, according to the study published online June 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.
"If you sleep in a very hot room, you don't sleep well and you don't get rested so the quality of sleep is compromised," Quandt said. "For workers, the concern is what happens in the daytime during work hours while using tools and machinery. They're in situations where they have to make decisions that can affect safety, but if they're drowsy, this can be an issue."
She noted that this problem could get worse due to climate change.
"There is historical data to show that temperatures in the southern United States have risen, and over the long term, warmer temperatures are going to strain workers who do a lot of physical labor and affect their productivity," Quandt said.