High heat in summer poses risks to farmers

BLACKSBURG—With temperatures soaring into the 90s or higher, heat-related illnesses become a serious occupational hazard for farmers and others who work outdoors.

“Mother Nature can throw some serious curveballs to farmers working outdoors,” said Tony Banks, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of commodity marketing. “Fortunately, we can anticipate and plan for working in the heat, humidity and sun.”

Hot, humid conditions can cause workers to lose a significant amount of water due to excessive perspiration. When that happens, the body begins to overheat.

Heat stroke is the most serious of heat-related illnesses, according to the U.S.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Signs of heat stroke include confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Anyone working outdoors who begins to experience those symptoms—or sees someone else exhibiting them—should call 911.

Heat exhaustion is another serious heat-related problem. Its symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst and heavy sweating. If a worker has heat exhaustion, he or she should be given liquids and should receive medical evaluation.

Heat cramps and heat rash are lesser heat-related problems but can cause an uncomfortable work experience.

Anyone working outdoors in hot weather should drink enough water to maintain normal body temperature and to replace lost fluids.

“Often, it’s just a matter of realizing that additional breaks and fluids are necessary in the summer,” Banks said. “After all, a farmer wouldn’t operate a tractor when its engine overheats, so they should treat themselves the same.”

Farmers also should be concerned about overexposure to the sun and its harmful effects. Experts recommend protective clothing, a hat that covers the face, ears and neck and use of sunscreen.

Media: Contact Banks at 804-290-1114.

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