Safety: What should your company be aware of in Summer Months

Safety: What should your company be aware of in Summer Months

by William T. Paletski, PE CSP CWCA
Sr. EHS Consultant | Keystone
Lehigh Valley, PA

It is summer and the temperature has been above 90 degrees F for many days here in the Region.  It is a common safety topic among workplaces and employers have been establishing a heat stress program to minimize the effects of this serious condition.  Just like you would do for other safety topics such as lockout/tagout or fall protection or personal protective equipment, employers need to start the process of having a program that identifies or anticipates the hazards and then proceed with initiating a solution for managing those hazards.

William Paletski Photo

William Paletski

Let’s start with heat stress in the workplace.  Heat stress in the workplace is the condition where the load of heat that a person experiences, is due to sources of heat or heat retention, or the presence of heat in a work setting.  This leads to heat illness such as heat cramps, exhaustion, stroke and even death.  Although the rate of heat that is produced in the body is determined by the activity being performed, the surrounding environment is a significant element in anticipating heat stress.  When temperatures rise above a certain amount, the potential for heat stress occurs because the human body cannot release the heat quick enough to keep the core body temperature at 98.8 degrees F.  You see, heat dissipation happens naturally through sweating and increased blood flow to the skin.  If heat dissipation does not happen quickly enough, the internal body temperature keeps rising, and workers may experience symptoms that include thirst, irritability, a rash, cramping, heat exhaustion or heat stroke and possibly death.

So OSHA as well as many other organizations suggest (and require) that employers initiate a safety program that monitors conditions within the workplace to minimize the chance for illness.  Heat index or the wet-bulb globe temperature are two indicators of heat stress that can be used for initiating such a program.  In these programs, an employer would set “triggers” for initiating action items.  These “triggers” can start at 85°F heat index to start initiating mandatory breaks and training.  The employer can set up locations for shade or air conditioning.  As the heat index reaches 95°F, a new action item is initiated that provides quicker breaks.  This can all be written down as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or as a written Safety Plan.  This provides you guidance, so you have a consistent protocol to show OSHA and any other authorities that you are showing Good Faith Effort to minimizing heat stress issues.

But wait, heat isn’t the only hazard outdoor (and some indoor) workers face.   When employees work outdoors with woods, bushes, high grass, or leaf litter, workers may risk exposure to poisonous plants and insect bites.  Employees who cut grass or perform any outdoor work are especially susceptible to these hazards.  Warm temperatures bring out ticks, spiders, and insects.  Safety Professional recommend wearing long pants (light weight as possible), socks, and long-sleeved shirts, and tucking pants into boots or socks.  Also helps to have and use insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin.  Checking skin and clothing for ticks daily, and immediately removing ticks using fine-tipped tweezers.  Treating bites or stings with over-the-counter products that relieve pain and prevent infection.  Seeking prompt medical attention if you experience new, severe, or persistent symptoms after a bite or sting.  These may include swelling and pain at the bite site, signs of infection, body/muscle aches, fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, rash, stiff neck, and/or paralysis.  Remember, insects can be brought indoors so be careful where you place your hands, because many spider and bee stings have occurred indoors.

Finally, do not forget about plants such as poison ivy, western poison oak, and poison sumac.  Typically, if the stems or leaves are damaged, the sap may be deposited on the skin through direct contact with the plant or by contaminated objects such as clothing, shoes, tools, and animals.  This can lead to itching, redness, a burning sensation, swelling, blisters, and/or a severe rash.  Outdoor workers should be trained in the hazards if there is a risk of exposure.  Wear cloth or leather gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants tucked into boots.  You can apply a barrier cream/lotion to exposed skin.  Keep rubbing alcohol accessible because it removes the oily resin up to 30 minutes after exposure.  Wash hands frequently.  Employers can have these protocols as part of an overall safety program.

Staying safe in the summer takes planning.  Employers need to develop a protocol for summer activities and how employees may be exposed to hazards of heat stress, insects, and plants.  Controlling hazards does not need to be complicated, but it does take effort to understand the needs of employees in certain situations.  Review OSHA regulations.  Discuss the hazards with your safety committee.  Develop options for eliminating unsafe conditions.  Train employees on how to be protected.

William Paletski is MRC’s Workplace Safety Forum EHS expert. We invite you to join the conversation at our peer network designed to help solve your Risk Management challenges. Keeping your workplace safe from employee injuries and OSHA compliance is an everyday challenge.  This challenge affects your Workers’ Compensation rates and your overall cost of doing business.  You may use this link to register for the  September 25, 2024 Workplace Safety Forum. At all times you may inquire about registration or contact diane.lewis@mrcpa.org or call her at (610) 554-5196 for questions. 

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