Tobacco workers at risk for “green tobacco sickness”
Dehydration, dizziness, headaches and vomiting are just a few of the symptoms of nicotine poisoning, also known as "green tobacco sickness." Workers who plant, cultivate and harvest tobacco are particularly at risk. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has announced the release of a recommended practices bulletin* with guidance on reducing the hazards for tobacco workers.
Taking aim at child labor
In recent years, the tobacco industry has undertaken voluntary efforts to curtail child labor in tobacco farming and increase protections for young workers. The department has collaborated also with state agencies, growers, farmers, manufacturers and others to increase education, training and protections for tobacco workers.
"The best way to protect people from on-the-job hazards is to prevent those hazards in the first place, and this bulletin outlines commonsense steps to reduce nicotine exposure and prevent heat illness," said Secretary Perez. "It's important that we continue to work with a wide array of stakeholders in order to find solutions that protect all workers."
Younger workers at greater risk
Issued jointly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the bulletin identifies serious health hazards related to work in tobacco fields, and steps employers can take to protect the health of farm workers. It also identifies vulnerable workers, including children and adolescents, who may be more sensitive to chemical exposure and more likely to suffer from green tobacco sickness, and who may suffer more serious health consequences than adults. The bulletin is available in English* and Spanish.*
Approximately 90 percent of domestic tobacco production occurs in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, the latter of which accounts for nearly half of all production. The department is committed to working with these states to protect the health and safety of young agricultural workers generally, including on tobacco farms.
What's being done
Both OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division have conducted outreach and education in tobacco-producing states to highlight agricultural health and safety risks. These efforts include training sessions, grants, online and print publications, and an extensive outreach and compliance assistance program. In February, WHD Administrator Dr. David Weil and OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels met with tobacco manufacturers and buyers in North Carolina to discuss labor law compliance throughout the tobacco supply chain. They also met with worker advocates and representatives to discuss recommendations for improving working conditions in the industry.