(June 24, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Crop workers have the highest rate of death from heat-related illness in the U.S.

A government report released June 20 indicated that from 1992 to 2006, 68 of the 423 workers across the nation who died from heat-related illness were involved in crop production, according to U.S. health officials during a June 19 press conference.

“Heat-related deaths among crop workers were about 20 times higher than the rates for the general workforce,” said Dawn Castillo, chief of the Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. “Such deaths are preventable. It is important that appropriate steps are taken to ensure that workers who toil to put food on our tables are not placed at unnecessary risk.”

She said 71% of the deaths among agriculture workers were foreign-born.

“The high proportion of these deaths among foreign-born workers in recent years is striking and suggests a need to ensure that communications on the risk of heat-related illnesses be in workers’ native languages,” she said.

The rate of deaths for crop workers is 2.5 times greater than that of workers in the entire agriculture industry and 3.5 times greater than those in construction, she said.

Data aggregated into five-year periods indicated heat-related death rates among crop workers might be increasing. The majority of deaths were in adults age 20 to 54, a population not typically considered to be at high risk for heat illnesses.

The report said crop workers might be at increased risk for heat stroke because they often wear extra clothing and equipment to protect themselves against pesticides.

Prevention of heat-related deaths among crop workers requires educating employers and workers on the hazards of working in hot environments, including recognition of heat-related illness symptoms, and implementing appropriate heat-stress management measures.