As the heat rises, who will protect farmworkers?

In much of the country, as climate change drives increasingly brutal heat waves, farmworkers lack protection. How they fare going forward will largely depend on whether their employers voluntarily decide to provide the access to water, shade, and rest breaks that are critical when working in extreme heat.

That’s because, as Bridget Huber, Nancy Averett, and Teresa Cotsirilos write in FERN’s latest story, “There are currently no nationwide regulations that spell out what employers must do to protect workers from heat, and while efforts to draft a federal rule recently began, it will likely be years before the standards are in place.

“Farmworkers are up to 35 times more likely to die from heat-related illness than workers in general, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And the risk will only grow as the climate crisis intensifies, and particularly if swift action to cut emissions is not taken. Already, 21 days per season in U.S. crop-growing counties are considered unsafe because of the heat, according to a 2020 study. By 2050, if global average temperatures rise by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), that number is projected to reach 39 days per season.”