Warm Weather Workplace Hazards
The season of warm weather, backyard cookouts and long weekends is here; however, the summer season also poses unique workplace safety hazards that you and your employees need to be aware of and ready to deal with.
In fact, did you know that the rate of workplace accidents and incidents is the highest in the summer months? You are already losing productivity to vacations, don’t lose productivity to workplace accidents too.
Staying safe during the hot summer weather means understanding and managing the risks, like heat stress and heat stroke to bugs and insects, here are the top summer safety hazards and how to address them.
#1: Heat-Related Illnesses
Heat related illnesses can range from heat cramps and rashes to the far more serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Although heat related illnesses are linked to hot and humid work conditions and not only during the summer season, the rate of heat related illnesses is more than 20X higher in the summer months.
As a supervisor, both you and your workers play a role in helping prevent heat-related illnesses from taking hold.
- Reduce the physical demands of workers when temperatures and humidity levels are high and adjust schedules to avoid outdoor work during the hottest period of the day (10am to 2pm)
- Provide PPE appropriate to the weather conditions, and mandate frequent rest periods in a shaded shelter while providing cool water or other non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages to workers
- Train employees to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses and take action
- Wear clothing that is light colored, loose fitting, and breathable (like cotton) and gradually build up to heavy or demanding work
Extreme heat and physical labor can increase the rate at which bodies lose water, posing a health and safety risk. The symptoms of dehydration include thirst, muscle cramps, excessive sweating and fatigue.
To battle dehydration, make cool water available and anyone working in hot conditions should drink about one cup of water every 20 minutes.
#3: Sun Exposure
Obviously, the hot sun of the summer plays a role in heat exhaustion, but workers that spend long periods outdoors are at risk of serious sun burns and the long-term risk of skin cancer.
Employers should provide effective, light-coloured PPE to minimize sun exposure. Light coloured fabrics absorb less UV light. All exposed areas should be covered in sunscreen, with a higher than 25 SPF rating – work isn’t the time to work on your tan.
Employees should also be mindful that they can get a sunburn on their eyes – if working outside, tinted safety glasses or sunglasses are a necessity.
Your body is working overtime to keep you cool during the summer. UV rays can cause chemical changes in your body that also make you more susceptable to fatigue.
Fatigue is not to be confused with the mid-day lull in productivity. It is a serious safety risk and health concern. Fatigue impairs judgement and concentration, slows reaction time, and is a major contributing factor to accidents and incidents in the workplace.
Symptoms of fatigue include irritability, reduced alertness, headaches, loss of appetite and weariness.
Staying hydrated, taking frequent breaks in a shady area, and even eating a salty snack to replenish the body of the salt it loses while sweating can beat back fatigue in the summer months.
Mosquitoes can cause a number of illnesses, including Zika Virus and West Nile Virus. Besides mosquitos, the summer months also mean an increase in the numbers of ticks, bees, hornets, and all other insects. If you work near still and stagnant water, you are 50x more likely to come in contact with insect blooms.
Although they might seem like insignificant pests, many insects can carry diseases. What’s more likely, however, is that you or a colleague might be susceptable to an allergic reaction to an insect bite.
Ensure workers have access to insect repellent to workers, which needs to be reapplied as per manufacturers guidelines. Light clothing also helps to repel or reduce the attraction of insects.
As well, using less perfumes or fragrant soap has also been shown to reduce the attraction of insects.
You might not be able to swat out all pests, but you can do your part to reduce the exposure.
Lastly, be aware of bites/stings and inspect your body after working outdoors. Be especially mindful of ticks, who bury their heads under your skin and can cause serious diseases or allergic reactions.
Be mindful of the increased workplace safety risks associated with summer and do what you can to beat back the heat and other risks.