Self-Care and Health-Seeking Behavior of Migrant Farmworkers

Anthony, Maureen

There are an estimated three million migrant farmworkers in the United States. Agriculture is considered one of the most dangerous industries in the US with dawn to dusk work hours in often unfavorable weather conditions. Many crops require stoop labor and repetitive movements that can result in musculoskeletal injuries. Workers are also exposed to a variety of potentially dangerous chemicals. Working outdoors in sunlight can cause heat exhaustion, sun burn, skin cancers and diseases of the eye. Farmworkers are also susceptible to injuries from farm machinery, falling items, and falling from trees or ladders.

In addition to the inherent dangers of farm work, numerous factors place migrant farmworkers at even greater risk of injury and illness. Most migrant farmworkers in the US are of Hispanic descent and only 12% speak English. The median educational level is 6th grade, with 20% having less than three years of formal education. Low educational rates and poor English language skills can influence how MSFW understand potential risks associated with pesticides and other safety-related warnings.

A prospective survey using face-to-face structured interviews was used to explore the type and frequency of occupational injuries as well as health-care seeking practices of migrant workers. Musculoskeletal injuries were the most commonly reported injuries, followed by injuries of the skin and chemical exposure. Self care with over-the-counter remedies was the predominant method of dealing with injuries, and, with the exception of chemical exposure, was found to be for the most part, appropriate. The reported use of folk remedies was low.

Future research efforts should focus on ergonomic modifications and farmworker education to reduce or prevent musculoskeletal injuries. The number of reported chemical exposures and inappropriate treatment draw attention to the need for continued efforts for both primary prevention of exposure and optimal treatment once exposure occurs.