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Overview/summary for Agriculture


Agriculture is one of the basic and oldest industries of the EU representing a considerable fraction of GDP and employing a large number of workers. Despite increasing mechanization, the agricultural industry is still characterized by an array of manual labour tasks, which elevate the workers’ metabolic rate and consequently the body produce large amounts of internal heat. Furthermore, workers are exposed to the open environment and hence high levels of external heat stress during hot parts of the year. Many agricultural tasks need to be performed on a fixed schedule, sometimes requiring the most physically demanding tasks to take place either during the hottest part of the day (around noon) or the hottest time of year (e.g. harvesting during the summer). With higher average temperatures and increased frequency of heatwaves, it is of vital importance that agricultural workers are protected to maintain worker health and productivity.

Preliminary research from the HEAT-SHIELD project, conducted on agricultural workers indicate that ~ 80% of agricultural workers/farmers are affected by heat in the summer time and a field study that applied continuous time-motion analysis have demonstrated that irregular/unscheduled breaks increases when the environmental heat load is elevated – leading to substantial loss of total working hours due to heat. Dehydration will aggravate this problem and reported difficulties in maintaining hydration and avoiding overheating may explain some of the lost work time as well as associated heat issues/symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue and concentration problems.  


















To avoid a decrease in productivity, the following actions and precautions should be considered for agricultural workers:


  • When possible (re)schedule work so heavy manual tasks are completed early morning or late evening when the environmental heat load is usually lower than midday


  • Plan regular brief breaks with “active resting” i.e. planned hydration and cooling (e.g. by one of the below mentioned methods) – overall this will benefit productivity and prevent excessive fatigue instead of increased time spent on irregular breaks.


  • Ensure access to cold drinking water (or slush ice to maximize cooling).


  • When possible take breaks in cool, shaded areas with as much natural air flow as possible.


  • When heat loads are very high, and especially for elderly workers, encourage spreading water on exposed skin to support evaporative cooling. 


  • Wear appropriate clothing – clothing may protect from sun radiation but it can also restrict convective and evaporative heat loss from the body, so use light loose-fitting clothes with breathable material that allows for air flow


  • Hats and caps may also protect the head from radiation but should be loose fitting to allow for evaporation 

More specifically, time-motion analysis accurately assessed the work shift time spend doing labor (WTL) of grape-picking workers, evaluating every second spent by each worker during every work shift.

The results demonstrated that 12.4% (summer15.3% vs. autumn 10.0%) of total work shift time was spent on irregular breaks (WTB). 

There was a 0.8%, 0.8%, 0.6%, and 2.1% increase in hourly WTB for every degree Celsius increase in temperature, wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT), universal thermal climate index (UTCI), and mean skin temperature (Tsk), respectively (Figure.1). 

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