Summer temperatures in the area are already posing a health threat to farmworkers and agricultural workers who work in local nurseries, tree farms, and greenhouses around the Central Florida area and in the state.
Temperatures in the high 90s, with humidity often above 50%, make the “feels like” temperatures (or “heat index”) reach into the 100s, and even as high as over 110 degrees. For outdoor workers, the health risks of heat exposure, heat stress, dehydration, even heat stroke, and long-term kidney damage, are very high.
Farmworkers, recognized as “essential workers” during the pandemic, are especially vulnerable and disproportionately at risk.
Apopka is called the “Indoor Foliage Capital” of the world, with many area greenhouses and nurseries where men and women work in the production and packing of ornamental plants, from orchids and bromeliads to flowering trees and herbs and more. The workers are often laboring in direct sunlight or in enclosed greenhouses, with exhaust fans, but no cooling air conditioning or fans for air circulation to help workers cope with the heat. Consecutive days of working in such conditions can be debilitating to workers, who often tell us they go home depleted of all energy, and cannot do anything but lay down to rest. Yet, children and household duties mean they must be able to function for their families needs.
“We know that last summer was one of the hottest on record,” said Sara Mangan, Climate Justice Organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida. “We are already experiencing extreme heat in 2022 that impacts the health disproportionately of our most vulnerable community members – our farmworkers, but also roofers, landscapers, and construction workers in Central Florida, most of whom are people of color. We need protections for outdoor workers whose work we all depend upon now.”
The Farmworker Association of Florida has a heat stress training program for farmworkers that the organization’s staff will conduct to help farmworkers know the signs and symptoms of heat exposure and what they can do to protect themselves. But, rising temperatures are putting farmworkers and other outdoor workers in imminent danger and the state of Florida needs to step up immediately to enact an emergency heat standard to protect farmworkers and all outdoor workers.
“We know that last summer was one of the hottest on record. We are already experiencing extreme heat in 2022 that impacts the health disproportionately of our most vulnerable community members We need protections for outdoor workers whose work we all depend upon now."
--Sara Mangan, Climate Justice Organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida
The Farmworker Association of Florida’s concern for heat impacts on farmworkers started over 10 years ago when FWAF engaged in community-based scientific research with Emory University to look at both daily and long-term impacts of heat exposure on our farmworkers and community members.
Among the findings of those studies were:
- Most of the farmworkers experienced dehydration by the end of the workday
- Reached a core body temperature above that recommended by the CDC of 100.4 degrees
- About 1/3 suffered acute kidney injury on at least one of the three days that they participated in the study. Long-term, chronic dehydration is also a risk factor for chronic kidney disease for farmworkers in Florida and around the country.
- Heat exposure contributes to between 600 and 2,000 worker fatalities annually, making it one of the top three causes of occupational fatalities and, possibly, the top cause.
- Environmental heat is likely responsible for at least 170,000 work-related injuries in the United States every year, which would rank it third among all causes of worker injuries.
There is no time to wait to protect workers from extreme heat. The state needs to act to prevent illness, injury, and even death of our farmworkers and other workers as summer temperatures continue to rise.
For more information and inquiries, contact the Farmworker Association of Florida at 407-886-5151.