Seven Safety Suggestions for Summer Work

Tuesday, 02 August 2011

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Each change of season brings its own challenges for outdoor workers. Below are seven suggestions to help you stay a bit safer as you work. Use these on the fireground and at operational training, during any outside work with your department or workplace, and anytime you are outdoors. Also check out this important message from Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines: Click here to hear from NVFC 1st Vice Chairman Chief Jeff Cash on the importance of staying hydrated.

1. Schedule your workload. While you can't always choose your hours or work locations, you may be able to plan your workload to avoid overheating. Schedule your heaviest work for the coolest parts of the day. In the summer, sunlight exposure is greatest between 10 am and 4 pm. Take your breaks during those hours, and when you do, find someplace cool and shady to rest. Try to move throughout the day to work in shaded areas and avoid the direct sun whenever possible.

2. Get into summer fashion. Wide-brimmed hats, sun glasses with side panels, and pants tucked into socks may not get you on the fashion runway, but they can prevent any number of burns, stings, and bites. Full-length pants and long-sleeved shirts reduce bites from mosquitoes and ticks and minimize skin contact with poisonous plants. Hats and sunglasses protect your skin and eyes from the sun's UV radiation. If you have a history of skin cancer, you may want to wear dark clothing with a tight weave, which blocks UV rays more effectively than light-colored, loosely woven clothing. However, if pests are more of a concern, wear light colors and tuck your pant legs into your socks to avoid unpleasant up-the-leg visitors. To stay cooler in the heat, again wear light-colored clothing that is loose-fitting and made from a breathable material such as cotton.

3. Know your plants. Poison oak, ivy, and sumac are found throughout the United States. The sap oil from these plants can cause painful allergic reactions. Learn to identify local varieties of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac so that you can avoid them as you work outside. Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves to shield your skin from contact. Also, you may consider using a barrier skin cream, such as a lotion containing bentoquatum, which can offer some protection before contact. Do not burn plants that may be poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Inhaling smoke from these burning plants can cause life-threatening allergic reactions within your lungs.

4. Drink enough of the right things. When it's hot, you have to be careful to drink enough. Hard work and high temperatures lead to quick dehydration. Drink before you get thirsty. If you are thirsty, you are already beginning to dehydrate. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar. Water is still the best thirst quencher, but if you are sweating a lot then drink a sports beverage to help replenish your electrolytes and prevent heat cramps.

5. Slather yourself in sunscreen. The sun emits three types of ultraviolet radiation, conveniently named A, B, and C. UVC is not generally a concern. A good sunscreen will block UVA and UVB. Wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15. SPF refers to the amount of time you will be protected from a burn. An SPF of 15 will allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than they normally would be able to stay without burning. The SPF rating applies to skin reddening and protection against UVB exposure. It does not indicate any level of protection against UVA. A good broad spectrum sunscreen will contain additional ingredients to block UVA, such as Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone. Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration, and proper application. It should be reapplied at least every two hours. Some sunscreens lose their efficiency when used with insect repellent. Also, their potency diminishes over time, so throw away bottles of sunscreen that are more than 2 years old.

6. Respect the creepy crawlies. Tall grass, leaf litter, rocks, wood piles, and bushes are favorite hiding places for spiders, ticks, and snakes. Where possible and practical, stay clear of these areas. Wear gloves when handling brush or debris. Wear boots, pants, and long sleeves when working in tall grass or underbrush. Cut grass and remove dried leaves from around the worksite to reduce tick populations. Be cautious near piles of undisturbed materials where snakes or spiders may be. Store unused apparel and equipment in tightly closed plastic bags. An additional spider caution: they are often found living in outdoor toilets where flies are abundant.

7. Watch out for your coworkers. Monitor your own physical condition, but also keep an eye on your coworkers. Learn the symptoms of heat-related illness, and watch for them in yourself and others. Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress. Also, brush up on your first aid so you can help a coworker who may need immediate help if suffering from heat stroke. You and your coworkers can also help each other by inspecting for hard-to-spot creatures. Ticks, in particular, can be difficult to see, especially on your own body. Help each other inspect skin, hair, and clothes for unwanted passengers.

For more information and recommendations for safer work this summer, visit the NIOSH outdoor worker pages.


Media Room