The burden of extreme weather conditions and intense heat can impact anyone spending excessive time outside. We all know the unpleasant effects of high temperatures and over-exposure to the sun’s harmful rays — heatstroke, lightheadedness, dizzy spells, exhaustion, and dehydration and perhaps even death in the most extreme circumstances. And for farm workers, the risk of health complications and the dangers of extended exposure to grueling conditions is a big concern.
Farm workers have extremely difficult jobs; they work long hours performing manual labor under harsh conditions, and often they do this while battling aches and pains from the intensity of their efforts. They work in unfathomable heat, sometimes even into the triple digits. And worse, they do their jobs without ample access to water, shade and safety measures to ensure their health and well-being is protected. Oftentimes employers disregard the needs and rights of the farmworkers, many of whom are migrant workers being subjected to abusive labor practices. This is not just a matter of keeping workers happy, but keeping them safe — because their lives are at risk.
Thankfully it’s 2019, and if you have a problem or a concern, there’s an app for that. Which is why 17-year-old Faith Florez has created Calor, an app to keep farm workers safe as they are subjected to damaging heat and brutal working conditions.
Personal Tragedy Inspired Global Action
While Calor (which is Spanish for “heat”) certainly wasn’t born overnight, personal experience and tragedy inspired Florez to take action and change the world for farm workers everywhere. Faith comes from a family of farm workers — she grew up in Kern County, a small farming community in Shafter, California, and both her father and grandparents worked in the fields. “My grandma Estella, she picked roses, cotton, almonds, and then my poppa, her son, went on to again pick roses, cotton, almonds and migrate between seasons between the fields,” she said in an interview with 23ABC. Sadly, her grandmother passed away from heat exhaustion as the result of working under harsh conditions.
That traumatic loss is a reality for so many migrant farm workers operating in extreme temperatures. It is not unique to this one case, but rather a tragic norm for those workers dealing with heat exhaustion and heatstroke on a regular basis. And in a worst-case scenario, the intense heat can even lead to death.
It’s completely unfathomable and disgraceful that farmworkers, who play an invaluable role in this nation’s food industry, are not only disregarded and under appreciated, but also put in harm’s way without any effort to protect their health and safety.
And Florez was not okay with the status quo that she saw her relatives, and other workers, being subjected to. So she took action to protect her family and all farm workers. “I don’t want to hear about a farmworker that died because they were too far away from water and shade,” Florez said.
Protecting Farm Workers Rights
Employers often take advantage of farm workers, exposing them to unsafe and inhumane working conditions. Every year, as workers brave extreme heat and dangerous conditions, the risk of illness and death persists. Despite the presence of organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an organization responsible for ensuring that employees are not laboring under risks of bodily harm or death from excessive heat, heat-related death and injury is still an issue for farm workers. According to non-profit organization Public Citizen, exposure to excessive environmental heat killed 783 U.S. workers — from farmworkers to construction workers — and seriously injured nearly 70,000 workers from 1992 through 2016. And as global temperatures are rising, the risk of heat-related death among these workers goes up as well.
And to add insult to injury (or fatality), many of these workers are undocumented Latino immigrants — the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about half of the nation’s farmworkers are unauthorized — making them extremely vulnerable and less likely to speak out against poor working conditions, for fear of losing their job or deportation. Another huge issue is that despite many measures and laws in place that set out to protect farm workers’ safety, farm workers are often unaware of their rights.
The Calor App is on a mission to put the well-being of farmworkers in their own hands – to help raise awareness of safety requirements such as additional access to water, shade and heat-protection, and to ensure that workers are being given everything they need to prevent heat-related injury and death while they are working in the fields.
Calor Aims to Keep Farm Workers Safe
The poor treatment of farm workers is a fundamental human rights issue that impacts millions of people. And Calor is on a mission to protect them all. Calor is a user-friendly app that farm workers can download onto their devices to stay safe as working conditions worsen or become dangerous. “The application is ultimately designed to prevent instances of heat stroke amongst agricultural workers,” said Florez.
Her idea, inspired by her family’s experiences in the fields, started out as just that: an idea. But it became a reality after the USC Viterbi School of Engineering took interest in her proposal, and a group of graduate students took on the project of developing this app.
Despite the passion and support for this project, there were several questions and hurdles around how to actually develop the app and ensure that it would be effective at protecting farm workers. Where would they pull weather data from? How would farm workers access the information? What would be the best platform for delivering those crucial and timely alerts?
While the initial idea was to create an app that would work on mobile devices, there were hiccups with that plan, because many farmers did not want their workers getting distracted by looking at cell phones while actively on the job. So plan B, which ended up making more sense, was to develop an app that would be compatible on smart watches, allowing the watch to both share alerts and information while also detecting a person’s body heat.
Calor has three main functions:
1) Sends notifications based off weather data that is fetched
2) Functions as a hotline to 9-1-1 in case of an emergency
3) Provides education content to inform farm workers of the risks of their job and how to stay safe
Florez explains that with this app, we can use technology to change the high incidence of heat illness and ensure that farmers, contractors and farm workers are all protected and educated about the risks and measures necessary to stay safe.
How the App Works
First of all, for Calor to work all farm workers need to be wearing the Apple Watch or similar smart watch device. We know what you’re thinking: how will these farm workers all get their hands on Apple Watches? Those devices are expensive, and most farm workers getting paid minimum wage probably aren’t splurging on one. But Florez and the team at Calor thought about that.
In the pilot program for this app, farm workers will have access to wearable Apple Watches provided to them by farmers. Farmers will either purchase the watches directly, or eventually fundraising may help to cover those costs and take the burden away from the farmers and farm workers. And in the future, the hope is that farmers and insurance companies seeking lower workers compensation rates will use the watch/app to reduce heat illness and improve health.
Here are the various functions that the app provides:
- Allows farmworkers to receive notifications when the temperature exceeds a certain threshold of 95 degrees, so that that farm workers working in the fields take their legally mandated break for water, shade, and rest.
- Allows farm workers to receive notifications containing tips on what to wear, eat, and drink to prepare for work in the fields based on weather data and individualized medical information.
- Hosts short educational articles, videos, and quizzes to educate farm workers about how to ensure their own safety and health as well understand their legal rights on the job.
- Functions as a two-way emergency hotline to 9-1-1, contractors and health agencies by utilizing built in GPS tracking services in order to locate farm workers in periods of distress caused by heat and dehydration.
While the mission of Calor is clear — help protect farm workers and prevent heat-related illness or death — this app has also brought a new sense of purpose to Faith’s life. When the app really started to gain traction she was only 17 years old, in her junior year of high school. Throughout her journey creating this app, her passion project started to put other aspects of her life into perspective and really gave her a deep sense of fulfillment. And if you ask Florez, anyone can achieve that same level of fulfillment. We can all create change in the world, she says, we just need to recognize the problems in our community and utilize the resources around us to make the world a better place.