Heat risk for farmworkers

April 28, 2020 |
A group of people kneeling or leaning over green shrubs in the sun.

US agricultural workers will see unsafely hot workdays double by 2050, says new UW, Stanford study

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Workers who pick our fruits and vegetables already face harsh conditions in fields during summer harvest months. Those conditions will worsen significantly over the coming decades.

A new study from the University of Washington and Stanford University, published online in Environmental Research Letters, looks at temperature increases in counties across the United States where crops are grown. It also looks at different strategies the industry could adopt to protect workers’ health.

“Studies of climate change and agriculture have traditionally focused on crop yield projections, especially staple crops like corn and wheat,” said lead author Michelle Tigchelaar, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University who did the work while at the UW. “This study asks what global warming means for the health of agricultural workers picking fruits and vegetables.”

The study helps employers and workers foresee future conditions and think about how to prepare, said co-author Dr. June Spector, associate professor in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.

“This is the first study that I’m aware of that has attempted to quantify the effect of various adaptations, at the workplace level, to mitigate the risk of increased heat exposure with global warming for agricultural workers,” Spector said.

Learn more about our work with farmworking communities to protect their health.