Heat Exposure, Injury Risk, and Productivity in Agricultural Workers

This project examines the association between heat exposure and traumatic injury risk in agricultural workers, the relationship between heat stress and productivity, and the feasibility of using a biomarker of heat acclimation to detect workers at risk for heat-related illness and injury, with the ultimate goal of prevention. 

This study examined the association between heat exposure and traumatic injury risk in agricultural workers, with the ultimate goal of developing injury prevention solutions. The study reviewed over 12,000 Washington State worker's compensation claims data between 2000 to 2012 in relation to maximum daily humidex exposures gathered from established climate models. Harvest workers were evaluated in the field for associations between heat stress, psychomotor performance and productivity. In addition, the field studies tested the feasibility of using urinary 8-hydroxy-2’-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) as a biomarker of heat acclimation.

The research results show an increased risk for traumatic injuries in ag workers during hot conditions, particularly while participating in certain work-intensive harvesting activities in July. The connection between heat and injury was not surprising. Due to heat exposure, dehydration, and fatigue, a person can become less stable on their feet and have more difficulty concentrating.

The study team will now take these lessons into the field to determine the specific mechanisms and risk factors for injury. The team will engage with employers to estimate future heat illness-related productivity losses and health effects and will develop heat-related illness prevention interventions.

Principal Investigator: June Spector, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
University of Washington

NIOSH 2014-2017

Partnerships and Advisories
Washington State Labor and Industries, SHARP Program

Washington State University, AgWeatherNet Program

Spector J. T., Krenz J., Calkins M., Ryan D., Carmona J., Pan M., Zemke A., Sampson P. D. Associations between heat exposure, vigilance, and balance performance in summer tree fruit harvesters. Appl Ergon. 2018 Feb;67:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2017.09.002. Epub 2017 Sep 15. PubMed PMID: 29122180; PMCID: PMCID: PMC5912891.

Spector J. T., Bonauto D. K., Sheppard L., Busch-Isaksen T., Calkins M., Adams D., Lieblich M., Fenske R. A. A Case-Crossover Study of Heat Exposure and Injury Risk in Outdoor Agricultural Workers. PLoS One. 2016 Oct 7;11(10):e0164498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164498. eCollection 2016. PubMed PMID: 27716794; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5055365.

Trade article: Avoiding heat-related illness - Study finds workers paid piece rate tend to work harder and take fewer breaks, increasing the risk of heat-related illness symptoms. Good Fruit Grower Dec 28, 2015.

UW Newsletter: Hot Weather can Increase Risk of Agricultural Worker Injuries

A Multi-Level Approach to Heat-Related Illness Prevention in Agricultural Workers

Pilot: Study of Risk Factors for Health-Related Illness in Agricultural Workers