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How to Mitigate Summertime Hazards for Outdoor Workers  

mitigating summertime hazards for outdoor workers

Warmer weather means everything comes back to life for the summer — even those pesky bugs, snakes and dangerous plants. And while these organisms may be a hassle for casual outdoors enjoyers, they can pose serious occupational hazards for outdoor workers.  

Biological hazards are defined as those “associated with animals, people or infectious plant materials.” While bloodborne pathogen exposure is often a source of biological hazards, so are fungi and mold, viruses and bacteria, animal and bird droppings, insect bites and poisonous plants.  

Read on to learn some common summertime hazards for outdoor workers and how you can help your workers avoid them and stay safe all summer long.  

Insect Bites and Stings  

All outdoor workers are at risk for insect bites and stings during warmer weather, though the types of insects that pose threats differ from one region to the next.   

Key Risks of Insect Bites and Stings for Workers  

An estimated 1% of Canadians are allergic to bee stings. Allergic reactions can range from itching and a rash at the sting site to vomiting, hives, trouble breathing and cardiac arrest.   

Even grown adults who have never had severe anaphylactic symptoms could, following a bee sting, experience a life-threatening reaction.   

Bites from insects such as mosquitoes and ticks also pose potentially serious consequences for outdoor workers.   

While most mosquito bites are itchy and annoying, these insects can carry diseases such as West Nile virus and the Zika virus. These diseases bring with them symptoms such as high fever, headache and vision loss which could cause a worker to have to take several days away from their duties. More severe infections, however, can cause coma, encephalitis and meningitis, which may be fatal in up to 10% of cases.  

Ticks can spread Lyme disease, which may present lifelong symptoms to an afflicted person. These chronic cases of Lyme disease, or cases where a Lyme infection causes secondary conditions, can be debilitating and may leave an employee permanently unable to work.  

Insect Bite and Sting Prevention Strategies  

Insect bite prevention goes beyond just spraying on bug spray daily — though that’s important.   

If your workers are going to be in a wooded area or where their risk of being bitten by mosquitoes or ticks may be increased, encourage them to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, preferably light-colored fabrics. Lighter colors are less attractive to biting insects, and taking precautions to cover as much exposed skin as possible will give less surface area for insects to bite.  

When workers will be in the woods, hats, tall socks and even gloves should be encouraged to prevent ticks.  

Because mosquitoes breed in standing water, ensure your worksite is free of puddles and collected water after rainfall. The undersides of buckets, inside containers and wheelbarrows are frequently overlooked areas that can quickly collect water and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  

Snake Bites  

An estimated 14 people are bitten by venomous snakes in Canada each year. While the chances of dying from a bite are very low, underlying respiratory or cardiovascular problems, as well as a delay in reaching appropriate medical care due to being bitten in a rural location, can increase the chances of serious consequences following a snake bite.  

Key Risks of Snake Bites  

Early symptoms of complications from a venomous snake bite include pain, swelling, nausea, dizziness and weakness. The sooner an individual gets treated for a snake bite, the lower their chances of developing more serious complications.  

However, more serious issues do occur, including paralysis of the face and eyes, breathing problems, shock and breathing problems. If left untreated, a snake bite could cause irreversible kidney failure, skin infections, compartment syndrome (when pressure builds up in a muscle, restricting blood flow and causing pain) and serum sickness.  

Snake Bite Prevention Strategies  

The best method of prevention for snake bites is avoiding snake habitats, including tall grass, rocky areas, swamps and holes in the ground. Carefully checking your worksite before your team moves in to begin work can help you identify whether snakes may be a hazard so you can make any adjustments necessary to avoid snakes.  

Workers should always wear protective clothing, including long pants, gloves and heavy boots. These items will prevent a snake’s fangs from piercing the skin if a worker is bitten.  

When working at night or in dimly lit areas, workers should wear headlamps or use flashlights, as snakes prefer darkness and may be hiding in dimly lit spaces.  

Poisonous Plant Exposure  

Wooded and grassy areas aren’t just safe havens for insects and snakes; they can also be home to a variety of poisonous plants, including poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.   

Key Risks of Poisonous Plant Exposure  

Any of these plants contains oils that, if skin comes into contact with them, can cause skin irritation, rashes and blisters. These rashes can develop into skin infections if left untreated and may cause further severe complications for those who are immunocompromised.  

Respiratory distress can occur following contact with poisonous plants and may be fatal.  

Poisonous Plant Exposure Prevention Strategies  

Like with snakes, knowing how to identify poisonous plants and checking your worksite for their presence is the best way to prevent worker exposure. If you find these plants, put up caution tape so workers know to avoid the area or, if contact would be unavoidable, have the plants safely removed from the work area.  

Workers should also wear clothing that will protect them from coming into direct contact with poisonous plants, including long pants, sleeves and socks; gloves when necessary; and boots. If workers suspect their clothing has come into contact with a plant that could cause a rash, they should carefully remove the clothing — using rubber gloves and other protective gear when necessary — and shower immediately upon returning home (or at your worksite if facilities are available).  

Your Partner in Risk Prevention for Outdoor Workers  

Keeping outdoor workers safe from summertime hazards can be a challenge, and prevention is key to avoiding exposure. But there are still those times when your workers may come in contact with a hazard and require prompt treatment. With a Medcor Canada onsite clinic or mobile treatment center, your workers get easy access to medical professionals for any work-related concerns, giving them peace of mind and helping you reduce the need for offsite medical care. Learn more — speak with an advocate today.