May 13, 2022
Heat is on to keep protecting workers on the farm

After what has seemed to be a long and mostly dreary winter, the weather this week in Washington, D.C., has shaken off those wintry doldrums, washing the city and its environs in glorious sunshine and warmer weather. Perhaps Mother Nature is reveling in the fact that Congress is in recess, and rewarding the citizenry of the nation’s capital. Or maybe it’s the annual rebirth that occurs with Easter season.

Whatever the reason, the warmer weather and longer days are most welcome.

Michael Marsh

However, for farm and ranch families, they recognize the nicer climate is a reminder it is time once again to prepare for the weather that is about to come. Employers involved in agriculture do truly important work and they understand it is critical that the people who work alongside them in this worthy endeavor, the farmworkers, are safe.

Therefore, at this time of the season, agricultural employers go to their Injury and Illness Prevention Program and review their protocols for protecting workers in the changing environmental conditions that are coming. They review field needs for shade and extra hydration. They plan for rest breaks and for when those conditions may require an adjustment. They examine the possibility of needing to move work hours and perhaps consider working at night to avoid the heat of the day, keeping in mind the other safety demands that working in artificial light requires.

They do this planning ahead of time, so they are prepared for what is to come.

Farmers and ranchers have been doing this type of planning for all their lives. Farm and ranch families are intrinsically tied to changing of the seasons because they, and the viability of their enterprise, are linked to what the weather brings. And they recognize keeping the hardy hands of those essential workers helping them plant, nurture and hopefully harvest a bounty is of paramount importance.

Heat-related worker illness is also a priority of the Biden administration. Earlier this year the administration published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the impacts of heat on both indoor and outdoor workplaces. This ANPRM is precedent to a formal rulemaking which we anticipate will be coming out later this year.

Labor advocates have been hard- pressing the administration that regulation is needed to protect workers. They stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the reality that farm and ranch families live with year-in and year-out and the diligent care these families have taken for decades to protect farmworkers, not just from heat but from other safety concerns. Those same advocates seem to believe that regulation trumps common sense.

The National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) will be participating in (and has asked to speak at) a stakeholder engagement on heat-related worker issues in May. We want to be sure that the voice of agricultural employers is heard loud and clear in these discussions. NCAE is confident that anti-agriculture forces will attempt to drive the narrative and NCAE will be prepared to push back on spurious claims.

Something else for employers to be aware of is that Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh has issued a notice regarding a National Emphasis Program that the Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be implementing this season.

According to the notice, OSHA will conduct heat-related workplace inspections “before workers suffer completely preventable injuries, illnesses or, even worse, fatalities.”

OSHA plans to initiate inspections in more than 70 indoor and outdoor “high-risk” industries when the heat index provided by the National Weather Service exceeds 80 ̊ F. The secretary has deemed agriculture to be one of these “high-risk” industries.

NCAE is also providing a webinar for agricultural employers on how to mitigate heat stress issues in the workplace. You can register for the webinar on our website at ncaeonline. org. If you happen to miss it, please send us an e-mail and we will provide you with a link so you can review the materials at your leisure.

As I revel in the sunshine and the warmer temperatures that have finally arrived in this part of the country, I recognize the challenge heat in the growing season will bring. However, I take comfort in the knowledge that agricultural employers will be well prepared for the change in the season.

Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers


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