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'Dog days:' Ancient phrase with meaning for farm workers today

It's hot out. That's to be expected. It's summer across the country, including here in central Illinois. Folks often call these the "dog days." While it's commonly thought that the phrase came into being to describe days so hot that even dogs couldn't bring themselves to stir, its roots are actually more astronomical.

To the ancient Greeks, the hottest days of the summer were marked by the appearance in the heavens of Sirius, the Dog Star. When it appeared before the sun's rising, it meant the arrival of the hottest season and raised fears of fevers and catastrophe.

We don't associate summer with Sirius today. We just know it's hot. But concern about the heat is something farm operators should be taking seriously to avoid possible injury to farm workers.

Long-term weather forecasting isn't particularly accurate, but that doesn't stop meteorologists from making the effort. According to the National Weather Service, the outlook from August to October indicates that temperatures in the region will be higher than normal. The outlook for precipitation is less clear, but it's thought that crops will probably be all right.

So, that leaves human resources as the thing that may need the most attention during the coming weeks to make sure workers make it through.

That there is need for concern is clear. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports it received in excess of 200 reports of workers being hospitalized for heat-related ailments last year. At least eight people died. OSHA says the running average of worker deaths per year due to heat since 2003 stands at more than 30.

There is no federal standard for what constitutes excessive heat. General workplace safety rules are in place for protecting against potential problems, however. They include requirements for employers to provide workers adequate water, rest and shade when conditions are bad. If those rules are ignored and worker injury results, obtaining due compensation may depend on working with a qualified attorney.

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