At the 1992 Helsinki Summit, previously limited references to migrant workers were expanded, and the heads of state or government mandated the newly established Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to convene a seminar on migrant workers. In the context of this expanded OSCE focus, the Helsinki Commission organized five days of public briefings examining: farm labor economics, demographics and living conditions, health and safety concerns, farmworker children’s issues, and possible strategies for addressing problems facing farmworkers, their families and their employers. Those briefings were held on July 20, 1992; October 9, 1992; February 19, 1993; March 1, 1993; and April 8, 1993. The Commission subsequently published the briefing transcripts along with materials for the records submitted by the panelists. In addition, the Commission held a briefing on April 21, 1993, to hear from participants in that first OSCE seminar on migrant workers. The first four briefings were published on the Commission website in May 1993.
Agriculture consistently ranks as one of the three most dangerous occupations in the United States, along with mining and construction. The hired farmworker men, women, and children who tend and harvest our nation’s crops face a number of hazards in the workplace. For example, transportation of farmworkers to and from the fields in overcrowded trucks and vans which have had all seats and seat belts removed in order to pack in as many workers as possible, and which are driven by unlicensed, uninsured, and intoxicated drivers has resulted in vehicle overturns and crashes in which dozens of workers have been killed or maimed.
Pesticide poisoning, falls from ladders, back strain from heavy lifting and prolonged bending, and farm machinery-related injuries and deaths are other hazards. Where workers lack drinking water, toilets, and wash water in the fields — and evidence shows that only a small percentage of farm employers fully comply with the federal field sanitation regulations — workers face an increased risk of contracting parasitic infections and other communicable diseases as well as of developing urinary tract infections, and suffering heat stroke or pesticide poisoning. Overcrowded, unsanitary living and working conditions make tuberculosis a growing occupational risk for farmworkers.