It’s that time of year again! The birds are singing, the sun is shining and work that may have been halted during winter months has begun once more. It’s time to focus on new projects and deadlines; all while keeping everything running smoothly. And that’s no easy task on a good day, much less when unforeseen dangers can be around every corner. When you are completing your hazard assessments to determine what safety equipment you need on the job, don’t overlook the dangers of working outdoors.
Outdoor work environments such as construction, roofing, oil and gas operations, landscaping, emergency response operations and hazardous waste sites are among the most common environments in which workers can come into contact with outdoor hazards.
What you can expect to be lurking on your jobsite this season: lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Not very likely, but these sure are:
- Snakes: Rattlesnakes, found all over parts of California and the southern regions of the country, are among the most common and deadly poisonous snakes you may run across. You won’t always hear that distinct rattle when they’re nearby either! Always be aware of your surroundings, including areas that snakes like to hide: tires, debris, bushes or lumber. Keep a snake bite kit readily available for immediate treatment! If you happen to find a snakeskin that has been shed, use it to identify if it’s a poisonous species.
- Insects: Sure, most insects are just nuisances, but many have the potential to cause great harm. Bees, wasps, fire ants and many other kinds of stinging insects can cause allergic reactions, swelling, suffocation, drop in blood pressure and shock. If you can’t avoid them, at least don’t attract them. Make sure trash containers are closed tight and cover all food and drink containers. And supply workers with a quality bug and tick repellent.
- Poisonous plants: Vacant areas or land that needs to be cleared is often the site for toxic brush and foliage; poison ivy is a good example. The appearance of this plant changes throughout seasons, which can make it difficult to accurately identify. Workers should wear protective clothing and PPE (even facemasks and googles) when working in these areas to prevent irritation of skin, eyes and lungs. In case of contact, make sure to have a selection of cleansers, balms and barriers to help remove irritants and soothe skin. Don’t burn debris that comes from areas ridden with poison ivy or sumac as the release of fumes can cause respiratory problems!
- Allergic reactions & injury: When your workers are out on a jobsite, you can’t always guarantee proximity to a hospital or clinic. Allergic reactions can happen from food, insects or plants. Injuries can happen at any time! Having adequate first aid on hand can give a worker a fighting chance until they can seek medical treatment. It’s also important that workers carry epinephrine (epi-pen) if they have serious allergic reactions.
- Heat stress: Heat stress and dehydration can sneak up on a worker if they aren’t careful. High temperatures, overexposure to the sun, sweating and inadequate water intake can lead to very dangerous health risks including sunburn, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, seizure, hallucinations, increased heart rate and even loss of consciousness. Make sure your jobsite has temporary sun shelters, ice packs and cooling clothing, water or sports drinks that can restore body fluids, electrolytes and salt balance. In cases of severe dehydration, an IV may be necessary.
As if obtaining permits wasn’t enough to make your blood pressure top the charts, isn’t it fun to get that call that a worker is being rushed to the emergency room?
Sometimes it’s the simplest of oversights that can cause the biggest safety risks to workers. But when there’s an easy fix (such as keeping some products on hand in a tool box or in the trailer), a potentially life threatening incident can be avoided at minimal cost. Many factors can come into play that can cause workers to become more vulnerable: rising temperatures, age, weight, fitness levels and medical conditions.
Make sure to train workers about outdoor workplace hazards, including hazard identification and ways that they can protect themselves from exposure. And provide them with the outdoor protection to do so. Keep your workers safe, avoid costly medical bills and lost production by planning ahead!