July Safety Advisor | Working Outdoors in Warm Climates
Hot summer months pose special hazards for outdoor workers who must protect themselves against heat, sun exposure and other hazards. Employers and employees should know the potential hazards in their workplaces and how to manage them.
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataract and skin cancer. There are no safe UV rays or safe suntans. Be especially careful in the sun if you burn easily, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have any of the following physical features: numerous, irregular, or large moles; freckles; fair skin; or blond, red, or light brown hair.
Here’s how to block those harmful rays:
- Cover up. Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Follow application directions on the bottle or tube.
- Wear a hat. A wide brim hat, not a baseball cap, works best because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.
- Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses (eye protection). Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive, but they should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Before you buy sunglasses, read the product tag or label.
- Limit exposure. UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The combination of heat and humidity can be a serious health threat during the summer months. If you work outside (for example, at a beach resort, on a farm, at a construction site) or in a kitchen, laundry, or bakery you may be at increased risk for heat-related illness. So, take precautions. Here’s how:
- Drink small amounts of water frequently.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Cotton is good.
- Take frequent short breaks in cool shade.
- Eat smaller meals before work activity.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
- Work in the shade.
- Ask your health care provider if your medications and heat don’t mix.
- Know that equipment, such as respirators or work suits, can increase heat stress.
There are three kinds of major heat-related disorders; heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Know how to recognize each one and what first aid treatment is necessary.
Lyme Disease | Tick-Borne Diseases
These illnesses (i.e., Rocky Mountain spotted fever) are transmitted to people by bacteria from bites of infected deer (blacklegged) ticks.
In the case of Lyme disease, most, but not all, victims will develop a bulls-eye rash. Other signs and symptoms may be nonspecific and similar to flu-like symptoms including fever, lymph node swelling, neck stiffness, generalized fatigue, headaches, migrating joint aches or muscle aches.
You are at increased risk if your work outdoors involves construction, landscaping, forestry, brush clearing, land surveying, farming, railroads, oil fields, utility lines, or park and wildlife management.
Protect yourself with these precautions:
- Wear light-colored clothes to see ticks more easily.
- Wear long sleeves and tuck pant legs into socks or boots.
- Wear high boots or closed shoes that completely cover your feet.
- Wear a hat.
- Use tick repellants (but not on your face.)
- Shower after work.
- Wash and dry your work clothes at high temperature.
- After work, examine your body for ticks. Remove any attached ticks promptly and carefully with fine-tipped tweezers by gripping the tick. Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, or nail polish to remove the tick.
Protecting Workers from Heat Stress and Heat Illness
Exposure to heat can cause illness and death. The most serious heat illness is heat stroke. Other heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash, should also be avoided.
There are precautions that can be taken any time temperatures are high and the job involves physical work.
Heat Illness Risk Factors
- High temperature and humidity, direct sun exposure, no breeze or wind
- Heavy physical labor
- No recent exposure to hot workplaces
- Low liquid intake
- Tight, non-breathable clothing
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
- Inability to think clearly
- Passing out, collapse, or seizures
- May stop sweating
To Prevent Heat Illness
- Designate a responsible person to monitor conditions and protect workers at risk of heat stress.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Provide a supply of cool water to workers. At least one pint of water per hour is needed. Avoid beverages with caffeine.
- Modify work schedules and arrange for frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas.
- Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks for workers new to the heat or those that have been away from work. This allows employees to adapt to working in the heat (acclimatization).
- Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothing. Consider protective clothing that provides cooling.
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses; monitor yourself; use a buddy system.
- All employees feeling ill should notify their supervisor immediately.
Information provided by OSHA. Prepared by Michael Ballantine, Occupational Safety Consultants