Are your employees at risk of these common hot-weather hazards?
When it comes to summer occupational hazards, you might think your employees are not among those at risk. Heat stroke is something only farmers and construction crews need to worry about, right? But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), your employees might not be as protected as you think.
Of the 2,490 cases of nonfatal heat-related injury or illness requiring time away from work in 2017, cases were roughly split among Goods-Producing Industries (1,270 cases) like agriculture, forestry, mining, construction and manufacturing and Service-Providing Industries (1,220 cases) such as trade, transportation, utilities and warehousing. The top 5 occupations affected also held some surprises: not only construction but extraction; transportation and material moving; service; production; and installation, maintenance and repair.
These data show that no business is immune to hot-weather hazards. What risks do summer conditions pose to your workforce, and how can you get ahead of them?
1. Heat-Related Illness
The risk for heat-related illness doesn’t always rise at the same pace as mercury in a thermometer. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Association uses heat index in defining its four levels of risk. Organizations looking to create a heat illness prevention plan can refer to OSHA.gov, where you’ll find recommendations for protective measures at each level. These range from providing water and sunscreen to workers on lower level days to ceasing nonessential tasks and monitoring physiological symptoms on days of extreme risk. Once formalized, managers should be trained to implement the plan but also to be watchful for employees who may benefit from added precaution, such as those who have returned to work recently or who may not have built up a tolerance to hot weather conditions.
2. Tickborne Disease
Insects, arachnids and mites caused 3,770 cases of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving time away from work in 2017. According to the BLS, the service industries, including education and health services and trade, transportation and utilities among others, were particularly at risk (3,140 cases).
May, June and July are the most active months for ticks that transmit Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ticks are drawn to landscapes with bushes, leaves and high grass, so when working outdoors, it is best for workers to avoid these areas whenever possible. If employees are working in an area where ticks could be present, the CDC advises that they cover as much skin as possible by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt as well as tucking their socks into their boots. Some even tape their pants and socks together for an added barrier of protection.
Following their shift, workers are advised to inspect their entire bodies for overlooked ticks. Ticks can be removed with tweezers, and if caught within 24 hours, the risk of Lyme disease is relatively small. However, it is important to monitor for signs and symptoms of untreated Lyme disease, such as fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis, and to seek medical attention as needed. Clothes should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat for an hour to kill any ticks that may have been missed. The CDC also suggests treating work clothes with Permethrin, a tick repellent (note: this should never be used on your skin directly).
Flooding is most common in warmer months of the year, and since 2015, more than 100 people have died annually because of floods.
For anyone who works in an area prone to flooding, this makes it critical to identify a safe location to go should waters rise. Authorities also advise that workers be provided a radio to keep on hand at job sites so they can be alerted to evacuation orders should an emergency arise. In case of flood, workers should cease operation of any electrical equipment as it presents a risk of electrocution if it gets wet or is operated while standing in water. If a worker is trapped in a building as the water rises, they should be trained to go the highest level possible, using the roof only if necessary. If trapped in a vehicle in fast-moving water, it is advised that they stay inside the vehicle and relocate to the roof if waters rise in the vehicle.
As global temperatures rise, stronger storms become the new normal and tickborne disease rates increase, employers must become more proactive in guarding against illnesses and injuries that can occur in summer months. No matter your industry, take the time to review your plans and policies so your workers are equipped to remain safe and cool as summer heats up, and year-round.