Social Marketing Key to Heat Stress Campaign

Heat stress can be fatal to outdoor workers in California, especially in the summer when high temperatures are the norm. In 2010, the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) led an innovative social marketing campaign to educate non-English speaking workers and their employers about the dangers of extreme heat.

Heat stress campaign materials were developed in five languages -- Spanish, Mixteco, English, Punjabi and Hmong (Image courtesy of LOHP)

The results were dramatic. Almost 90% of farmworkers surveyed were aware of the campaign, and many reported an increase in heat illness prevention behaviors including drinking water and resting in the shade, according to a report in December 2010 to the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Approximately half of employers and over 80% of community groups surveyed were also aware of the campaign.

Suzanne Teran, coordinator of public programs at LOHP, led the collaboration with DIR, Cal/OSHA, Underground Advertising, UCLA-LOSH (Labor Occupational Safety and Health) and UC Davis' Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety. Funded by DIR, the campaign built on a successful pilot project conducted by LOHP in Mendota, California, in 2008.

Designed to reach underserved non-English-speaking workers in the hottest areas of the state, the campaign spanned "from the US-Mexico border in the south up to the Punjabi population in Yuba County," said Teran.

The team began by framing their message. "How do you talk about the issue in a way that resonates with your target audience and ultimately leads to behavior changes by shifting attitudes?" asked Teran. Their main strategy was to position heat safety as simply part of the job: Water. Rest. Shade – the work can't get done without them.

"In our analysis, we saw that productivity was a common goal for both workers and employers," added Teran. "We drew on this for the messaging to create positive associations with the needed prevention steps, for instance with the headlines 'Stopping for water keeps you going,' or 'You'll last longer after a little rest.'  These headlines were complemented by the powerful photography of confident workers doing what's right for their health."

With the help of seven focus groups from different worker populations — farming, construction and landscaping and others — they crafted easy-to-understand materials in five languages: Spanish, Mixteco, English, Punjabi and Hmong. A DVD with audio options in each of these languages was produced as a low-literacy educational tool for workers and employers. "We've heard from our evaluation with different community groups that the resources have been very useful for their community outreach efforts," noted Teran.

Rolling out the campaign, "We strategically placed the message where workers and supervisors were in the right frame of mind to be thinking about heat and able to do something about it," said Teran. Billboards were erected in both high traffic areas and rural roads near the fields. "We also used wall graphics, where you place ads in neighborhood check cashing stores and grocery outlets to reach workers with an approach that is local and targeted."

Outdoor ads were placed on lunch trucks and in vans that carpool workers to the fields. Radio ads ran during their commute to and from work. Giveaways such as key chains with thermometers, bandanas and clipboards for crew leaders served as reminders of heat safety.

Community outreach and training was also central to the campaign. By summer's end, the team trained over 150 people who in turn trained up to 8,000 workers. "It's all about how you reinforce the message by bringing people in who can serve as a support to workers in their local community," explained Teran.

The team leveraged multimedia tools to expand their reach. For instance, an online seminar for employers was held in June 2010 with 60 participants. They also created a multilingual website with educational materials, which attracted almost 9,500 visits between June and November 2010.

"In follow-up interviews after the campaign, both employers and worker advocates said that it would be great to run the campaign again next summer," said Teran. "Funding is a major consideration, but we would enjoy the opportunity to continue dissemination."

Campaign Website:

Complete Report on the campaign outcomes from the California Department of Industrial Relations:


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