Farmers taking steps to protect workers in summer heat

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- This week's heat advisory served as a reminder those people who work outdoors need to be protected against heat illness.

The summer sun helps valley produce like bell peppers quickly mature. They're picked, packed and sent to stores.

Farmers need the heat to grow a crop, but too much of it can cause concern. The warmup has many growers adjusting work schedules.

Fresno farmer Will Scott explained, "What we do is start early in the morning and then about 11:30 when it starts heating up we'll break and then come back in the evening when it's cooler."

Scott and his brother were busy preparing a field to plant more black-eyed peas.

He said nights are still mild, so he's not worried about his tomatoes. "Even though it's getting warm but every now and then you get a breeze and it's heavenly."

The more significant concern was for the ag workforce toiling in the sun.

Workers were reminded to drink cool water frequently, rest in the shade and watch for symptoms of heat stress.

State law requires that employers provide shade, water and a place to rest for those who work outdoors.

Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League said, "When it gets over 95 degrees you are to take breaks every two hours, a 10-minute break must be taken."

But Cunha added workers can always take a break if they need rest or water.

The same rules apply to construction, but many ag workers come in from different regions, so heat illness training for supervisors is essential.

Cunha said, "We have labor coming in from other states or coming from the coast that may not have worked in the 100 degrees. So a thing called acclimatization - acclimating that person. So rather than working nine hours that first day, you're going to work four hours or three hours."

Free heat illness training sessions are available Friday at the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
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