Health and safety for Sugarcane workers

11 November 2020

Through PanameriCaña and in partnership with SER San Antonio Group, Solidaridad held a webinar to share the actions the San Antonio Sugar Mill is taking to ensure sugarcane workers’ health and safety.

Health promoter in charge of training producers in good occupational practices and ensuring that workers are adequately hydrated

Webinar focuses health and safety actions taken for the benefit of sugar workers

The "Challenges in occupational health for agricultural workers in the face of climate change" webinar held in August 2020, was led by the San Antonio Sugar Mill, a pacesetter in Central America whose purpose includes sharing and promoting good agricultural practices in sugar for the welfare of its workers.

Agricultural workers are vulnerable to heat stress, which scientists maintain is the result of the effects of climate change. During his presentation to more than 60 key actors, Dr. Denis Chavarría, occupational health manager at San Antonio Sugar Mill, stated that excessive heat is a very real occupational health and safety hazard that increases the vulnerability of workers and their occupational risks, for example dehydration and other heat-related illnesses, which could lead to kidney damage.

The special protective equipment used by workers who handle agrochemicals safeguards their health and safety

He said that “Each country has to take full commitment with responsibilities relating to the International Labor Organization standards. The preventive management of the health and safety of agricultural workers is fundamental in these agreements”. Unless these commitments are made, heat stress will further impede progress toward decent work and social justice for employees.

Mobile tents are set up in the field to provide shade for workers. The water, shade and rest protocol establishes periodic breaks at specific intervals.

To prevent these occupational hazards, employers must promote good agricultural practices and be aware of external and internal factors that can affect the worker's ability, such as air temperature, clothing, hydration status and the workers' health condition, among others. Dr. Chavarría reviewed a summary of the research conducted with sugarcane workers from San Antonio Sugar Mill and also with mining and construction workers in the western part of Nicaragua, to study the origin and factors that could trigger chronic kidney disease of unknown origin.

To promote good agricultural practices in sugar in the region, the content of the webinar showed the hydration, shade and rest protocol that Ingenio San Antonio uses to safeguard the health and safety of workers. 

Key elements of the hydration, shade and rest protocol the San Antonio sugar mill implemented for their workers.

In summary, this prevention and protection implementation is achieved through:

  • Medical screenings before and during employment.

  • Health promotion through awareness and education.

  • Provision of personal protective equipment.

  • Progressive increase in workload for acclimatization of workers.

  • Mandatory breaks in the shade and implementation of regular hydration programs throughout the day.

  • Mandatory rest day during the week.

“Rest in shade, protective equipment and hydration. Your best option” graphic reminder placed inside a mobile clinic

PanameriCaña creates partnerships to promote good practices in sugarcane

Solidaridad’s PanameriCaña serves as a link to promote good agricultural practices in sugar at the regional level by partnering with organizations such as Grupo SER, San Antonio sugar mill. We work with mills in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Opportunities for learning and exchange, such as the webinar led by Dr. Chavarría, serve as a platform to share priority issues within the sugar sector. “We know that the issue of health and safety of workers in the sugar sector is a very relevant and important issue. The sector in the region is very interested in working on this and other issues involved in working with people. The challenge is to study, analyze and propose solutions, always acting with humanity”, said regional manager of PanameriCaña, Carlos García Valdez.

Demonstration during an exchange of experiences and knowledge to promote good agricultural practices in sugarcane

Read more about our work in Sugarcane.

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