Heat Stress (Newspaper Article)

It was nine o'clock; he had been working for three hours already. He complained of a headache. After working for another hour, he and the rest of his crew took a bus to another field. On the bus, he began to pant and felt nauseated. The foreman called the emergency medical service (EMS). The emergency personnel immediately administered first aid upon arrival at the scene. The worker was taken to the hospital, but died 36 hours later.

My friends, this is a true incident about a farmworker who suffered from heat stroke while picking cantaloupes. The story was taken from the May 1992 records of the NURSE project of the California Occupational Health Program. It is especially relevant for us to discuss this topic since we still have several weeks of hot weather ahead.


Heat stroke is the most serious of the illnesses caused by overheating. It is a life-threatening condition, and must be treated as an emergency. Symptoms include dry, hot, red or spotted skin. The victim becomes extremely weak and may lose consciousness, but with rapid and strong pulse. If not treated immediately, this can lead to convulsions, brain damage and even death.


In case a co-worker of yours has a heat stroke, do the following without delay:

  1. Put the person in a cool or shady area, and fan to promote cooling.
  2. Remove the victim's clothing and sponge the skin with cool water.
  3. Call an ambulance immediately.


Overweight and elderly persons, alcoholics and drug users, small children, diabetics, hypertensives, and people taking special medication are most prone to heat stroke. They should especially take precautions when working in hot, humid environments such as in the field or in hot, confined spaces with poor ventilation. Heat stroke can be largely avoided by following basic health and safety practices. These steps will also help prevent less severe heat stress problems.

Have enough sleep every night. The body needs adequate rest, and this is especially true for farmworkers and others who do manual labor.

Eat a good breakfast before going to work. Like a car, our bodies need fuel to properly function.

Dress appropriately for the warm weather. A long sleeved shirt, long pants and wide brimmed hat give the best protection from the sun. Clothes made of cotton are cool and allow air to circulate on the skin surface.

Drink plenty of water during the day. Most heat disorders are caused by dehydration. Our bodies lose water from sweating, and the water lost must be constantly replaced. Your employer is required by law to provide adequate water supply in the field, and you should be allowed "reasonable opportunities" during the day to drink. It is best to carry a water bottle with you. Do not drink beer or other alcoholic beverages; the alcohol dehydrates rather than rehydrate your body. Besides, drinking (alcohol) while working is not safe.

Take breaks to cool off, and rest. This will extend your energy.

If you feel dizzy, weak, or overheated, stop working and go to a cool place. Sit or lay down, drink water, and wash your face with cool water. If you don't feel better soon, notify your crew boss or supervisor so you can be properly treated.

We can always find excuses for failing to take all of these preventive measures. I went to a friend's birthday party last night and did not get home until two o'clock in the morning so I didn't get much sleep... I was already late for work, so there was no time to have breakfast... I lose time and money by taking breaks, or going to get a drink... But remember, it is as much your responsibility to protect yourself as it is your employer's. Everyone should be aware of the conditions that cause heat stress and do what is necessary to prevent it, and know how to deal with its symptoms.

As farmworkers, we are very much like professional athletes. We need strong, healthy bodies to work, and we should keep them in top shape. Take good care of yourselves, and until next week!

This radio public service announcement was produced by the Agricultural Health and Safety Center, Applied Behavioral Sciences of the University of California at Davis. For further information contact Jenny Rodriguez, UCCE, Ag. Bldg., County Civic Center, Visalia, CA 93291-4584, (209) 733-6491.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More