The Heat Campaign from a Former Field Worker’s Perspective

by admin on June 30, 2011 · 5 comments

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ongoing, nationwide Heat Campaign led me to reflect on my personal experience as a potato field worker in the 1980s. Although, my current work as an OSHA compliance officer affords an air-conditioned workplace, back then I worked long hours, from seven in the morning till ten at night, in the summer heat. 

“Water, rest, shade”, simple and easy as it sounds, is not easily attainable by those working under the sun. For one thing, as my own experience informs me, there is almost no shade or shelter when workers are working in the field. Many times, employers are reluctant to set up a shelter for workers. Moreover, if you don’t bring your own water, enough and plenty of it, rarely will you be provided with some. In other words, we, as workers, have to take good care of ourselves.  As for rest, back at that time, we usually got only 20 or 30 minute lunch breaks whenever our supervisors felt hungry. It wasn’t even in our control.

Magnolia (Maggie) Torres, compliance officer with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Philadelphia District Office, recently discussed the department’s ongoing heat campaign with host of the Puerto Rican Panorama television show Diego Castellanos.

This is the experience that I obtained from working in a potato field. I believe this could also be applied to other industries, such as landscape and construction, where workers get so exhausted from the heat, without even realizing they are at that point.

I remember people asking me: “why don’t you complain?” Complain? Most workers never dare to think of it. If you didn’t work hard, employers would find some else to replace us and we would end up losing our jobs. Nobody could afford that.

But there lies the beauty of the Heat Campaign. By advocating  a simple message: “Water, Rest, Shade”, we are telling outdoor workers that they should speak up for themselves and ask for what they deserve. Without a doubt, a large of portion of responsibility lies with employers also when it comes to providing workers with precautions to fight against heat. Now, bearing the straightforward message of our heat campaign in mind, employees should feel empowered to ask for preventative measures when they are not available. In addition, OSHA has several tools and resources available to help keep workers safe throughout the season.

Editor’s Note: The Author, Magnolia (Maggie) Torres is a compliance officer with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Philadelphia District Office.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mary June 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Amen

2 mary June 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Yes I was there in 70′s

3 damp proofing cream July 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

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4 Sarah Damaskos August 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

With the hot, hot weather, a lot of our clients are also wondering what to do to keep their workers comfortable and safe in the heat while ensuring that work continues. While most of our clients are concentrated in the New York regional area (NJ, CT, PA and NY) where the potato fields are not very common, there is an awful lot of construction and roadwork as well as environmental remediation that demands a lot from outdoor workers in this heat. Dian Cucchisi, PhD, CHMM in our office recently wrote about heat-related illnesses and offered tips to supervisors to ensure that workers are not overheated. You can find her information (and her own personal accounting of a challenging heat-related work environment!) at http://ehswire.com/2011/07/occupational-heat-related-illness/. Thanks for posting this — outdoor summer workers and supervisors need the information.

5 Arlen Cundall February 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

This is good. I drive by the workers all the time and wonder how do they take care of the basic needs when working in a field. Thanks for taking care of these people.

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