Background: Heat-related illness (HRI) is an important cause of non-fatal illness and death in farmworkers. We sought to identify potential barriers to HRI prevention and treatment in Latino farmworkers.
Methods: We conducted three semi-structured focus group discussions with 35 Latino farmworkers in the Central Washington, USA area using participatory rural appraisal techniques. Interviews were audio taped and transcribed in Spanish. Three researchers reviewed and coded transcripts and field notes, and investigator triangulation was used to identify relevant themes and quotes.
Results: Although the majority of participants in our study reported never receiving formal HRI training, most participants were aware that extreme heat can cause illness and were able to accurately describe HRI symptoms, risk factors, and certain prevention strategies. Four main observations regarding farmworkers' HRI-relevant beliefs and attitudes were identified: 1) farmworkers subscribe to varying degrees to the belief that cooling treatments should be avoided after heat exposure, with some believing that such treatments should be avoided after heat exposure, and others encouraging the use of such treatments; 2) the desire to lose weight may be reflected in behaviors that promote increased sweating; 3) highly caffeinated energy drinks are preferred to increase work efficiency and maintain alertness; and 4) the location of drinking water at work (e.g. next to restrooms) and whether water is clean, but not necessarily chemically-treated, are important considerations in deciding whether to drink the water provided at worksites.
Conclusions: We identified potential barriers to HRI prevention and treatment related to hydration, certain HRI treatments, clothing use, and the desire to lose weight among Latino farmworkers. Strategies to address potential barriers to HRI prevention and treatment in this population may include engineering, administrative, and health education and health promotion strategies at individual, workplace, community, and societal levels. Although farmworkers in our study were able to describe HRI risk factors, reported practices were not necessarily consistent with reported knowledge. Further study of potential knowledge-behavior gaps may uncover opportunities for additional HRI prevention strategies. Farmworkers and employers should be included in the development and evaluation of interventions to prevent HRI.