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Heat Illness-Related Injuries Remain an Obstacle for Farmers

17 Jun 2024

As the summer continues to scorch, there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight for folks who work outside for a living. 

Right on the heels of a record-breaking summer in 2023, where the Northern Hemisphere repeatedly smashed record-high temperatures and collectively recorded the hottest average temperature on record, AccuWeather is predicting another 2-degree rise in average temperatures this summer.

With extreme temperatures and prolonged periods of unbearable heat becoming the norm, understanding how to recognize, treat and avoid heat-related illnesses on a jobsite is all we can do.

Human beings are unique within the animal kingdom for many reasons, and our uncanny ability to cool ourselves is one of the most ingenious. 

As soon as your body's internal temperature starts rising, your hypothalamus, which is also in charge of controlling sleep cycles and hunger levels, tells eccrine sweat glands all over your body that it's time to sweat. As the sweat emerges, the excess body heat is used to convert beads of sweat into vapor, causing you to begin to cool by a process called thermoregulation.

Hydration: It’s a Lifestyle

None of that fancy science stuff works without water so just like safety is a year-round commitment, so is hydration. Most experts advise looking at hydration as more of a habit than a task that starts before you even step on a jobsite.

According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), a good drinking habit for any farmer is drinking water every 15 minutes. Remember, if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. 

The Silent Danger of Heat Illness

Farmers are generally aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses due to the often-isolated and inherently demanding environments they work in. Being aware of the key symptoms to watch for can not only improve safety and morale, it can save a life. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), reported 2,830 heat-related illnesses in 2022 alone, a number that is surely underreported due to lack of awareness and reporting mechanisms in place​​.

Farmers operating equipment are particularly vulnerable to heat illness due to their exposure to direct sunlight, limited or uncertain shade, and the physical and cognitive demands of their job. 

It’s important to note that, just because you’re not holding a pitchfork in the field doesn’t mean you can’t easily become dehydrated. Your brain, while only accounting for 2% of your bodyweight, burns 20% of your calories and it needs water to turn those calories into energy.

Preventative Measures

We’re sure you are tired of hearing the word “hydration,”  but this should reiterate the importance of simply drinking water throughout the workday and at home. Staying hydrated is the most crucial factor in preventing heat-related illnesses and the easiest precaution to take. 

Farmers are advised to drink water frequently, in small amounts, every 15-20 minutes while avoiding caffeinated beverages, since they can contribute to dehydration.

Scheduling Regular Breaks

Work still must be done, despite the weather. However, whenever possible, schedule breaks in order to cool down and minimize exposure to extreme heat.

As the heat continues to take its toll on the planet and all who inhabit it, awareness around heat illness continues to evolve as the inherent dangers of the future jobsite evolve along with them, presenting us with a brand new set of issues to address next year.

And remember … stay hydrated! 


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.