Do You Work Outdoors?
For many people, nothing beats working in the great outdoors. Getting exercise, soaking up the sun and breathing fresh air can make for an enjoyable day on the job. However, people who work outdoors also face unique hazards. As the seasons change, so do the illness and injury risks which they face.
Who’s At Risk?
If you work outdoors on a regular basis, and for prolonged periods of time, you can be exposed to wide range of hazards. Workers who commonly spend the majority of their working hours in the outdoors include:
- Construction Workers
- Postal Workers
- Utility Workers
Types of Risks for Outdoor Workers
The types of hazards that you can encounter while working outdoors will depend on many factors, including your type of work, your region, your amount of time spent outdoors and the season. Common risks that outdoor workers face include:
When you work outside, you can be exposed to many different types of weather-related hazards, including storms, extreme heat and cold and exposure to the sun.Biological Hazards
You can suffer serious illness from coming into contact with certain types of animals and plants, including poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.Vector-Borne Diseases
Insects such as ticks and mosquitoes pose a major threat. They can easily transfer life-threatening viruses and bacteria when they bite outdoor workers.
Other Types of Hazards
Many people who work outside are exposed to dangerous pesticides and other chemicals, or they face the risk of traumatic injury in accidents such as falls.
What Season Is It?
Employers should train employees who work regularly in the outdoors to be aware of the different hazards that they can encounter as the seasons change. Four of the biggest seasonal risks are:
When the temperature plummets in the winter – often falling below freezing in many parts of the country – workers face risks that include:
- Hypothermia – Abnormally low body temperature marked by shivering, fatigue, confusion and disorientation.
- Frostbite – Loss of feeling due to decreased blood flow to extremities (typically detectable through numbness, tingling and bluish skin coloring)
- Trench foot – Loss of circulation due to exposure to wet and cold, with symptoms that include numbness, tingling and gangrene (where the foot turns blue or gray)
- Schedule tasks for the warmest period of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- Wear insulated, waterproof boots, thick gloves and a warm hat.
- Dress in layers for insulation (but loosely enough to promote circulation).
- Take frequent breaks in warm areas.
- Pack a thermos and drink warm liquids throughout the work shift.
Plants and Insects
As the weather warms up in the spring, outdoor workers face an increased risk of exposure to:
- Poisonous plants – When the skin comes into contact with the oils from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, it can cause a severe allergic reaction.
- Harmful insects – Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile virus, Zika virus and malaria, while tick bites can cause several different types of illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
- Wear a hat, light-colored long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked into your boots or shoes.
- Spray a repellant with at least 20-30% DEET on your skin and clothing, according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- If possible, avoid working in areas with tall grass, leaf litter, bushes and brush.
- Check yourself throughout the work shift for bites.
Temperatures can reach dangerously high levels during the summer months and cause a host of health issues including:
- Heat stroke – When your body becomes unable to regulate its temperature and cool down. Hot skin, profuse sweating, confusion and slurred speech are signs.
- Heat exhaustion – When your body suffers from dehydration due to excessive water loss caused by sweating. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, cramps and elevated body temperature are all symptoms.
- Rhabdomyolysis – When muscle tissue rapidly breaks down, triggering a release of proteins that can lead to seizures, irregular heartbeat and kidney damage.
- Heat rash – When the skin becomes irritated due to exposure to hot, humid weather conditions – typically in the chest, elbows, groin and legs. A red rash or clusters of pimples or blisters can be signs.
- If possible, schedule outdoors work for the coolest parts of the day (early morning and early evening).
- Wear light and/or well-ventilated clothing.
- Drink cold water or other liquids throughout the course of the work day.
- Take frequent breaks in cool, well-shaded areas.
- Keep close monitoring of yourself and co-workers.
Slip and Falls
In some parts of the country, freezing temperatures can sneak up on outdoors workers and hit as early as mid-to-late October. As a result, the risk of getting hurt in a slip and fall accident greatly increases due to:
- Icy, slippery surfaces (including surfaces covered in “black ice”)
- Disorientation caused by exposure to extreme cold
- Leaves covering holes and other hazards.
Walk slowly and deliberately, especially if you are on a roof, ladder, scaffolding or other elevated surface.
Wear boots or some other type of footwear with a slip-resistant sole.
Use extra precaution when getting in out of cars, trucks, forklifts and other vehicles.
Sunburn – A Year-Round Risk!
No matter what season it is, you face the risk of sunburn when you work outside. Sunburn can damage you skin and raise your risk of developing skin cancer.
- Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
- Take regular breaks in shaded areas.
- Wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15. Make sure to apply to all exposed areas of the skin, including the nose and top of the head. Apply before sun exposure and reapply throughout the shift (roughly every 2-3 hours).