Pilot: Risk Factors for Heat-Related Illness in Among Oregon Farmworkers

Farmworkers are at an increased risk for heat-related illness given their work requires heavy exertion in an outdoor setting. This study explored the personal, cultural, environmental, and work-related risk factors for heat-related illness for Latino farmworkers in Oregon. 

While many occupational groups are at risk for heat-related illness (HRI), farmworkers are particularly at risk given their tasks involve heavy exertion in an outdoor setting. Much of the previous research regarding the morbidity of occupational HRI has focused on military personnel, firefighters, and miners or other industrial workers. This research has identified various risk factors for HRI (e.g. age, sex, fitness level, acclimatization, etc.). Due to the uniqueness of agriculture and its workforce, there are unknown personal, cultural, environmental, and work-related risk factors for HRI.

The specific aim of this pilot under, Dr. Jeff Bethel at Oregon State University, was to identify personal, medical, cultural, environmental, and work-related risk factors for HRI among Latino farmworkers in Oregon. The survey instrument used included items assessing demographics, agricultural work (work history and current work practices), HRI (symptoms experienced and risk factors), high heat knowledge score, and health status and health behaviors. Complementing our HRI pilot in Washington State, this one-year pilot conducted by Oregon State University (OSU) surveyed a farmworker community in Oregon, collaborating with our University of Washington PNASH HRI project on the computer-based survey instrument. OSU researchers and students conducted personal interviews with 100 Latino migrant or seasonal workers engaging in outdoor crop production work during the data collection period. 


Principal Investigator: Jeff Bethel, PhD
Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health 
Oregon State University

PNASH Pilot Project 2012-2013


Nearly 30% of participants reported experiencing two or more HRI symptoms in the previous week. There was a low level of knowledge about working in the heat and concern about HRI. Nearly 75% drank water once or more per hour, but 65% consumed soda while working, and 40% worked at a site in which no cooling measures were provided (e.g. shade, trees, rest stations). Results from this study provide the foundation from which a culturally competent intervention can be developed to reduce the incidence of HRI. Results from the project demonstrated that heat-related illness is an important health topic for agricultural workers and that hydration and cooling measures need to be emphasized to workers as well as growers as a way to decrease heat-related illness.

Partners and Advisories
June Spector, University of Washington

Bethel JW, Spector JT, Krenz J. Hydration and Cooling Practices Among Farmworkers in Oregon and Washington. J Agromedicine. 2017;22(3):222-228. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2017.1318100. PubMed PMID: 28402203; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5804485.

Bethel JW, Harger R. Heat-related illness among Oregon farmworkers. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Sep 5;11(9):9273-85.doi: 10.3390/ijerph110909273. PubMed PMID: 25198688; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4199019.