The Farmworker Association of Florida has a multi-faceted program to educate, inform and empower farmworkers about health and pesticide safety; to assess work sites for violations of worker safety regulations; to train health care providers in pesticide exposure diagnosis and treatment in farmworker communities; to advocate for greater protections for farmworkers; and to promote sustainable agricultural practices. According to the EPA, agriculture accounts for 76% of conventional pesticides – approximately 944 million pounds – used annually in the United States. The extensive use of pesticides for food production puts farmworkers, who plant, harvest, sort and pack the food the nation eats, at high risk for pesticide exposure, acute poisoning, and associated adverse health effects. Pesticide health and safety of farmworkers is a major program area for FWAF.
Pesticide Health and Safety Trainings for farmworkers. FWAF uses an EPA-certified, one and a half-hour popular education method, developed by the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute, pesticide training to teach workers about the dangers of pesticides, the short and long-term symptoms of exposure, actions they can take to protect themselves and their families, and, most importantly, their rights as workers, including their Right-to-Know. Each year, FWAF staff and community leaders conduct the training with over 500 workers in the state, during which they play games and do an evaluation and survey to ensure that workers have understood and retain the material they have learned. Staff have the capacity to conduct the trainings in English, Spanish and Creole.
Diagnóstics. Agricultural work is very demanding and labor intensive. Conditions in the field and risk to workers’ health are exacerbated when the minimal protections that are afforded workers are violated. FWAF conducts workplace surveys, or “diagnósticos,” to identify cases in which worksites are not complying with the Worker Protection Standards and Field Sanitation Laws that protect workers health and safety. These surveys are then filed as complaints with the appropriate state agency for follow-up inspections and action.
Health Care Provider Training. A one and a half-hour training that was developed by the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute, in conjunction with FWAF, is an essential tool FWAF uses to train staff in clinics and medical centers that treat farmworkers in how to detect, diagnose, treat and report pesticide-related illnesses among farmworkers. The training includes a power point presentation, a training manual, and the EPA manual on the Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings.
Advocacy. FWAF’s advocacy efforts have included personal farmworker testimony and written public comments to EPA on soil fumigants; opposition to EPA’s approval of methyl iodide for agricultural use; support for bi-lingual pesticide labels; a demand to ban the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos for use in agriculture; support for the improvement of the Worker Protection Standards whose purpose is to protect the health and safety of farmworkers; and collaborative work with other organizations on farmworker-friendly provisions to be included in the Farm Bill being debated in Congress. Past successes include the passage of the Alfredo Bahena Act in 2005, which renewed the Florida farmworker Right-to-Know law (which was a FWAF victory in 1992) that gives workers the right to information about the pesticides being used in the workplace.