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Young agricultural workers can face a myriad of potential dangers

As a teenager taking an agricultural job this summer, your employer will be responsible for your safety and health. In turn, you are responsible for following the safety protocols set in place by your employer. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has strict safety standards to protect you.

Along with overexertion that is reportedly the primary cause of injuries in agribusiness comes heat-related illnesses, skin disorders, respiratory diseases, chemical toxicity, hearing loss, and even some types of cancers. Being prepared and learning about the dangers you will encounter and how to mitigate them can prove invaluable to your well-being and safety.

Sprains and strains

Your tasks will most likely have you bending, lifting and reaching and could potentially cause back sprains and strains. Your employer can take the following precautions to protect you:

  • Providing adequate safety training that also includes the steps to take in emergencies
  • Making sure all containers have handles for easier handling
  • Providing utility carts, pallet jacks and dollies to prevent musculoskeletal stress injuries
  • Providing roller conveyors for the moving of heavy boxes and bags of chemicals, fruit, vegetables and other produce

Learning safe lifting techniques might provide further protection.

Chemical hazards

If you are younger than 16 years, child labor laws prohibit the handling of specific pesticides and chemicals. You can take the following precautions:

  • Avoiding working with chemicals and plants to which you are sensitive
  • Always wearing the necessary personal protective equipment
  • Always washing your hands thoroughly before drinking, eating, smoking, chewing gum and using the toilet
  • Avoiding touching your nose, mouth or eyes with hands that might be contaminated

Take these steps even if you work with protective gloves.

Noise hazards

While working around noisy machinery and animals, the high-intensity noise can cause hearing damage. Make sure you mitigate these hazards by taking the following steps:

  • Learning the two-arm method to identify hazardous noise - If the distance between you and another person is less than two arm lengths and you have to raise your voice for that person to hear you, the noise level justifies the need for hearing protection.
  • Never going without earmuffs or earplugs in noisy environments
  • Requesting a hearing test as soon as you experience a ringing sound in your ears

Keep in mind that hearing loss is typically not reversible.

Cancer and skin disorders

Irritants can cause direct damage to virtually any area of your skin with which they make contact, and excessive exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer if you do not wear protective clothing and sunblock. Heat rash and infections or skin irritations resulting from contact with plants or insects are also common forms of agricultural dermatitis. Fortunately, proper PPE can prevent the majority of these threats.

Heat stress

Cal/OSHA has strict regulations related to protecting employees from heat-related illnesses. The following are the most basic precautions you can take:

  • Knowing that your boss must provide adequate amounts of fresh, cool water, and making sure you have a drink at 30-minute intervals
  • Taking frequent cool-down breaks in shaded areas
  • Wearing light-colored clothing that is cool and loose-fitting
  • Learning the symptoms of heat stress
  • Working with a buddy and looking out for signs of heat exhaustion in each other

Your employer will hopefully schedule outdoor jobs for the coolest times of the day.

Respiratory hazards

Your employer must provide appropriate respiratory protection. Your job might expose you to the following risks:

  • Congestion and excessive coughing that results from exposure to moldy hay, nuisance dust, grain, straw and gases
  • Diseases with long-term consequences, such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, farmer's lung or organic dust toxic syndrome.

These hazards exist both indoors and outdoors.

You are entitled to workers' compensation benefits

Workplace accidents can happen at any time, and if you are the victim of an on-the-job injury or illness, you can claim benefits to cover all your medical expenses and even a portion of your lost wages. The claims process could be daunting, but an experienced California workers' compensation attorney can provide the necessary support and guidance.

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