by Kim Krisberg
For many migrant farmworkers, the health risks don’t stop at the end of the workday. After long, arduous hours in the field, where workers face risks ranging from tractor accidents and musculoskeletal injuries to pesticide exposure and heat stroke, many will return to a home that also poses dangers to their well-being. And quite ironically for a group of workers that harvests our nation’s food, one of those housing risks is poor cooking and eating facilities.
A group of researchers and advocates recently decided to take a closer look at such facilities among migrant farmworker communities in North Carolina, home to an estimated 150,000 farmworkers during peak season and one of the largest such worker populations in the country. While a number of previous studies have uncovered the substandard housing conditions migrant farmworkers often experience, this was the first study to zero in on kitchen and eating facilities. The study, which was published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health(AJPH), found that the most common violations were improper refrigeration temperature, cockroach infestation and drinking water contamination.
“For migrant farmworkers, this is an occupational hazard because their housing is part of their jobs,” said Sara A. Quandt, a co-author of the study and a professor in the Wake Forest University Division of Public Health Sciences’ Department of Epidemiology & Prevention. “About two-thirds are guest workers and provision of housing is part of the terms of employment, so they don’t have a lot of choice in where they live. …They arrive, they go to work, they work very long days and very long weeks, and their employers are responsible for the provision and maintenance of their housing.”