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Is farmworker dehydration a widespread issue?

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Photo: Aldo Pavan/gettyimages

Chicago — A recent study of Florida farmworkers found that virtually all of them experienced dehydration at the end of their shift, and more than half were still dehydrated the next morning.

Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago and the Farmworker Association of Florida analyzed urine samples taken from 111 workers at a vegetable farm in southern Florida. The samples were provided first thing in the morning, at lunch and at the end of a shift over five days in May of 2021 and 2022.

Nearly 97% of the end-of-shift samples showed probable dehydration, while 62% of the morning samples showed the same.

In other words, “there was no recovery,” lead author Chibuzor Abasilim, a post-doctoral scholar in the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at UIC’s School of Public Health, said in a press release. Supporting his assumption: As the workweek progressed, the morning samples showed increasingly higher levels of dehydration.

Acute dehydration can cause fatigue, muscle cramps and dizziness, while chronic dehydration can lead to kidney dysfunction.

The researchers note that farmworkers are generally paid based on the amount of crops they pick, so the incentive to work longer and faster and not to take water or bathroom breaks can factor in. To overcome this, the researchers recommend employers provide bathroom facilities near the worksite, as well as mobile fans or shade units in the field.

They also call on the OSHA to fast-track rulemaking aimed at protecting workers from heat illness. They caution, however, that any new rule “will likely go unheeded unless larger changes are made to how both farms and farmworkers are compensated.” 

The study was published online in the journal Environmental Research.

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