Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Virginia Farmworkers get Updated Heat Protection Guidelines

California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington are the only states with heat standards in place. Five other states either have active legislation or are in the process of rulemaking. (Adobe Stock)

TOLEDO, Ohio — Some Virginia farmworkers will have updated heat protection guidelines.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee is enacting heat and safety protections for all its members. Neither Virginia nor the federal government has comprehensive heat guidelines for workers. It comes as summer temperatures are getting hotter because of climate change.

Mario Vargas, lead organizing development coordinator at the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice, said being mindful of heat stress is important.

“It should be important every season,” Vargas asserted. “There’s been some deaths not only in some fields, not only in North Carolina but in some other states, because of these supervisors or contractors, independent contractors, that they push the people to their limit.”

The new protections say if temperatures are near 85 degrees, anyone experiencing heat stress or dehydration symptoms should leave the field and seek shade. For temperatures close to 95 degrees or higher, workers should take a break every two and a half hours with water in the shade or as often as needed, regardless of whether a supervisor is present.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an average of 43 workers died from environmental heat between 2011 and 2021.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and said the new guidelines are preventive measures since lawmakers at any level have yet to act.

“The problem with legislation, whether it’s federal or state, it takes forever, and enforcement is always an issue,” Velasquez emphasized. “We’re not talking about big factories with a lot of workers in a big city somewhere. We’re talking very remote labor camps, isolated.”

He added workers should know how to protect themselves without necessarily filing a complaint with a federal agency.

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