Farm Workers Help Design 4 New Heat Illness Prevention Videos


The California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) is proud to present 4 new Spanish-language educational videos on:

  1.            Heat and Humidity Index
  2.            Importance of Water, Shade, and Rest
  3.            Symptoms of Heat Illness
  4.            What to Do In Case of an Emergency

The videos are each 2 to 3 minutes long and based on feedback from farm worker focus groups that said they would prefer watching short, informative videos on heat illness rather than receive written pamphlets.

The videos feature real farm workers and CHIPS staff acting out symptoms of heat illness, such as dizziness and fainting, while working in a field. The videos explain the first signs of heat illness and what to do, as well as the importance of drinking water instead of soda, energy drinks, coffee, and beer. Many workers are unaware that consuming these drinks to ‘cool down’ is actually counterproductive because they have high sugar levels and some drinks contain chemicals that give a false sense of energy (caffeine rush). The videos also explain what to do in an emergency.

At the end of each video, 3 short review questions are presented so viewers can review the information and supervisors can discuss the video with their workers.

You can access the videos at


WCAHS Celebrates California Ag Day 2016

How long does it take to adapt to high temperatures? That was one question on the trivia wheel that WCAHS brought to California Ag Day 2016 at the State Capitol on March 16th. The answer, by the way, is 2 – 14 days for the average person to acclimate to high heat.

2A. Leslie at CA Ag Day

Leslie Olivares with the heat illness trivia wheel.

California Ag Day is annual event that celebrates the abundance of California agriculture and its work force – the farmers, ranchers, laborers – and all that agriculture provides to our communities. Over forty exhibitors involved with all facets of state agriculture, including WCAHS Education and Outreach Specialist Teresa Andrews and Junior Specialist Leslie Olivares, step up tables on the west steps of the Capitol for the public to visit.

The popular WCAHS prize wheel focused on heat illness prevention, which is an especially relevant concern for farm workers, or anyone, spending long periods of time working outside during heat events in California. Children as well as adults were eager to spin the wheel to test their knowledge and win a prize.  The relaxed, family friendly event was a great way to promote our educational work and future training on heat illness.

WCAHS thanks California AgrAbility not only for the incredible work that they do for farm worker health, but also for graciously sharing their table with us. We were pleased to be part of California Ag Day and will attend similar outreach events in the coming months. For more information on these events, contact WCAHS at or (530) 752-5253.

Check out this California Department of Food and Agriculture YouTube video to learn more about the day.

Alifia Merchant: Determining Pesticide Exposure with Antibodies and 96 Tiny Wells

Alifia croppedBy Alifia Merchant

Agriculture and landscape workers apply pesticides as part of their work. Pesticides benefit us by protecting plants from harmful insects, but they can be poisonous if used carelessly.

Workers need to know how to safely use pesticides, such as by wearing gloves and long pants and washing their hands immediately afterwards. In California, many agriculture and landscape workers have a limited understanding of English and may not be able to read the instructions on how to apply pesticides safely. On the other hand, they may not have formal training through their employment, especially if their business is freelance. Even with trained workers, mistakes can be made.

My goal as a graduate student in the Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry Graduate Group at UC Davis is to help better protect agriculture and landscape workers from harmful pesticide exposure. I am working with Drs. Debbie Bennett and Bruce Hammock, Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) investigators, to develop quick and easy methods to determine if a worker has been exposed to pesticides.

Alifia blog photo copyI will interview agriculture and landscape workers to gain information about their jobs and possible pesticide exposure. Then, I will collect urine samples on days that they have sprayed or otherwise been exposed to pesticides.

Why am I collecting urine? When chemicals enter the body they can be metabolized, meaning that their chemical structure changes. After metabolism, the chemical can leave the body through urine. Different chemicals remain in the body for varying amounts of time, but the pesticides that I am studying are present in urine within several hours after exposure.

I will determine pesticide exposure using a method called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA for short. Each ELISA test involves a plate with 96 tiny wells with specific antibodies added to the wells. Each antibody detects a specific pesticide.

Urine will be added to the wells. If a well contains urine with pesticiELISAde metabolites, the well turns light yellow or clear. If the urine does not contain pesticide metabolites, the well turns a bright yellow color. Thus, the color of the well allows us to know if a person has been exposed to a pesticide and to what degree.

In the future, we see using the ELISA to quickly know if someone has been unsafely exposed to a pesticide and needs medical help. It could also be used to train workers; if the ELISA shows that a worker was unsafely exposed to pesticides after applying them, the worker would be informed about their results and receive recommendations about how to better protect themselves while doing their job.

For information on how to safely use pesticides at work and home, check out The Pesticide Safety Project website and videos in both English and Spanish, produced by WCAHS in collaboration with the California Poison Control System, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.


Coming soon! National Farm Safety and Health Week 2014

PrintSeptember 21-27 is National Farm Safety Week. This year’s theme is “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters.” The theme underscores the importance of working together to build a safer and healthier agricultural work place. California produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. At the heart of this industry are the farmers and agricultural workers, whose labor provides us with an abundant food supply. However, they, and often their families, are exposed to a unique, sometimes hazardous workplace that can affect health at all age levels.

During National Farm Safety Week, the 10 Agricultural Centers funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healt2014 Farm Safety Ad-Spanishh salute those working in agriculture. You can watch online safety videos through a special YouTube channel. These safety videos are designed for producers, extension agents, and farm families. Safety Counts: Protect What Matters, go to or visit the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety website at, which is housed at the University of California, Davis.


Life of a WCAHS Student Researcher: Heat Illness Study

By Eddie Delgadillo Alfaro

Note: Eddie and his co-workers have been working throughout the summer season on CA farms to better understand how to prevent heat illness associated with farm work. Data collected includes the internal temperature of participants as they work, how much water they drink, and on-site weather conditions.

Morning sunrise copyWe usually work Monday-Thursday. On Monday, we drive down from the Ag Center to whatever farm we will be working with for that week. Mondays are not as intense as the rest of the days since all we do is recruit participants for that week. However, beginning on Tuesday, we wake up before dawn to be at the farm 30 minutes before the workers arrive. So, we basically have to put up with beautiful sunrises each day we work.

Set-up copyWe usually set up in an open space or in a dirt road adjacent to the farm. Sometimes, we’re lucky and the farmer will let us use their office for the pre- and post-shifts. Jose, Melissa, and Carlos set up at the farm and wait for the first participants to show up.

Pre-shift copy


Javier, Maria, and Leslie patiently wait inside one of the vans after finishing the pre-shift session.  During this time, others may review blood exam results or set up the weather equipment.     

Weather eq copy



Alondra, Javier, Melissa, Maria, Carlos, and Leslie set up the weather equipment. After it is set up, we all get breakfast, and the 8 crew split up into AM and PM shifts.

Walmart copy


Alondra, Jose, Javier, Carlos, and Leslie shopping for supplies at Walmart for water and Gatorade. These supplies are for ourselves and offered to participants during post-shift.

Van copy



The majority of our workday consists of observing the participants. We take notes on their activities and how many times they drink fluids. Leslie is observing from one of our vans. I prefer sitting outside under shade, but when there is no shade and it is too hot, we watch from the vans.

sunflower copy

Sometimes  participants are not visible from the van and move around, so we have to follow them wherever they go to get our observations. Alondra and Maria walk down the edge of a sunflower field at a farm in Yolo County.

Carlos copy



During the post-shift, we basically do everything that we did in the morning except the equipment is removed and the post-shift questionnaire is longer. Carlos reviews the participant folder making sure everything is checked off and the participant may receive their compensation.

Road sign copy


To me, this sign summarizes the need for the California Heat Illness Prevention study and its significance. California is the 8th largest economy in the world, and agriculture is by far the largest industry in California. All too often, farmworkers are taken for granted and pushed aside. They are labeled as “aliens” in a state that is 7.5% composed of illegal immigrants. It’s about time someone took responsibility for their “losses or injuries”.

Supervisors copy


Our supervisors, Alondra and Jose, organize participant recruitment and keep us on our toes!

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The work never ends for Jose! At the hotel room, Javier and Jose download and review the data to make sure there are no problems with the recording equipment.

The level of work and hours varies for each farm. I’ve sometimes had to work 16 hour days, most commonly on the last day of the week when we drive back to Davis after working all day long. This is great for me since I get to clock in so many hours but can be super tiring! Javier knocks out on his hotel bed after a hard day’s work.

Javier copyswim copyFor Melissa and Leslie, nothing beats a refreshing swim after basking in the hot sun for 10 hours. WCAHS always tries to find a hotel with a pool for us. Sometimes the location of the farm makes that impossible, but when the hotel does have a pool, you can bet we dive right in!

Team copyOur team from Summer 2014: (Top row left to right): Leslie, Maria, Johnny, Javier, Eduardo, and Jose; (Bottom row left to right): Carlos, Melissa, and Alondra

Small Changes Can Make Big Impact with Ladders

LaddersBlogPic-UCAERC-CommPartnersIf you ever had an ergonomic review of your workspace, you know that small changes, such as moving your chair up an inch or tilting your monitor a few degrees, can make a big difference in reducing muscle aches and pains.

The same is true in agriculture where repetitive movement (e.g., going up and down ladders) can become incredibly tiring, potentially leaving a worker open to various types of injury. Staying healthy and strong is especially important for farmworkers who look forward to harvesting multiple crops through the season.

Professor Fadi Fathallah, engineer Victor Duraj, and others at the UC Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center (UC AERC) are continuing their earlier work funded by NIOSH Community Partners for Healthy Farming Intervention that showed some workers who harvest peaches and nectarines prefer a ladder with shorter spacing between steps.

Why might this be? It may go back to the principle of switchbacks. If you’ve ever hiked, you know that it is a lot easier to go up the hill via switchbacks than blazing a trail straight up. You have to take more steps with switchbacks but the vertical height of each step is much less, and, ultimately can be less tiring. You might also find that even though you took longer to get there, by the end of the day you may have walked further or the next day be less tired, or both. The same may be true when climbing a ladder if it has shorter steps.

In current work supported by the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, the UC AERC is using human muscle force modeling software to see why some workers with relatively small differences in size might have a strong preference for a particular spacing. To help match forces with movements the researchers are using motion capture equipment that includes small sensors strapped to many points on a body. These electronics are similar to those used in developing animated movie and video game characters that move in “real” ways. Besides actual and modified orchard ladders, the UC AERC will use their newly developed portable research ladder that allows for precise positioning of each ladder rung as well as overall angle of the ladder, which will help the researchers test software-predicted optimum spacing for each person in the study.

If you are curious to know more or are a grower interested in participating in field trials, please contact Victor Duraj at 530-752-1898,, or via

Ag Center Confronts Rape in Field

9622528306_e313bcf7c5_zThe PBS FRONTLINE 2013 documentary, “Rape in the Fields,” highlights undocumented women from California’s Salinas and Fresno areas as well as Washington’s Yakima Valley experience with sexual harassment and rape suffered at the hands of their supervisors. The women tell of their ordeals, sometimes at gunpoint, and fear of losing their jobs or being deported if they complain or leave. Often, the women do not speak English, are poor, in debt, and / or responsible for supporting their family. While in some cases, the grower was sued, the actual perpetrator was never criminally charged. Many women explained that sexual harassment is a common occurrence not just for themselves, but also for their friends and daughters.

A recent study by investigators at the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health (PNASH) Center and University of Washington (UW) confirms the risk of sexual harassment in agriculture – female farm workers are 10 times more vulnerable to sexual assault than women in other occupations. PNASHC is working this summer with Spanish radio KDNA-FM in the Yakima Valley to air radio dramas based on true women experiences recorded in the PNASHC-UW study. The radio show allows callers to phone in for questions or support.

sh poster copyPNASHC-UW has created flyers in Spanish and English to educate farmworkers about what is sexual harassment, your rights, how to report it, and who to turn to for help. In addition, the Washington Growers League and the Washington State Department of Agriculture are giving training on identifying and preventing sexual harassment.

“Rape in the Fields” has won the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for domestic television as well as the 2014 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for excellence in broadcast and digital news. It was a collaboration between FRONTLINE, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Spanish-language network Univision, which aired a Spanish-language version of the film, Violación de un Sueño.

Most importantly, “Rape in the Fields” has spurred efforts, like PNASH-WC, to combat sexual abuse by focusing on growers and getting advocates out into the fields. More information can be learned about the PNASH-WC study by visiting the UW’s Newsbeat.