By Diane M. Calabrese / Published July 2019
Summer brings an intensity unlike that in any other season. There’s more of everything—most of it pleasant (more daylight), some of it not (more traffic).
Balance is the tricky part of summer. Warm temperatures make it easier to work longer hours. They also bring risks such as heat-related illness, insects, and severe weather.
“Limiting your time in the direct sun” is important, says Joe Corley, owner of Clearview Pressure Washing in Washington, MO. “Plan your work during high temperatures to allow performing the work in the shade.”
Assessment of a summer job site should include opportunities for avoiding direct exposure to sun. Make it part of the job planning.
“Consider the movement of the sun and where there is shade on the job,” says Corley. “Use this to your advantage if the job allows.”
Think of all the risks that summer brings when scoping out a job. That includes the insects.
“We definitely encounter wasps on a regular basis,” says Corley. “It seems that they are most a threat to sting when they are nested in the insulated spigot covers or hose reels of the house.”
In such semi-concealed places, wasps are not easily detected by homeowners. Wasps build their nests in spring, well before most homeowners reach for their garden hose.
“Many times, we are the first to disrupt that area after they have nested,” says Corley. “Keeping wasp spray in the truck is a must.”
Ranking any list of safety concerns is difficult as they vary by region and day. Heat, however, is a concern very much tied to summer.
“The biggest safety concern in the summer for us would be staying hydrated and keeping plenty of cold water or Gatorade in the truck,” says Corley. “Bring more than enough because it’s obviously not easy to leave the job site to get anything once you’ve rolled out and set up.”
The carefree spirit that beckons in summer must be contained on job sites. We might want to relish the prospect of our next recreational activity or barbecue, but the focus must remain on safety.
Being careful and aware of surroundings in summer has several layers to it. Understanding the symptoms of heat illness before they become severe should be at the top. Not recognizing the symptoms, one of which is confusion, could result in errors that put workers in jeopardy.
It’s not just contractors working outdoors in summer who are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. High humidity and high heat cannot always be countered by indoor cooling systems. Anyone working in a hot environment is at risk for heat stress.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a heat stress guide (www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/heat.html), which outlines the types of heat disorders and their signs.
Heat fatigue, which results from not being acclimated to heat, can impede performance. It should be countered with some rest in a cool spot.
Heat rashes may occur when skin is persistently wetted by perspiration. They are dangerous because they can become infected.
OSHA’s Heat Stress Guide says, “Heat cramps have been attributed to an electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating. Cramps appear to be caused by the lack of water replenishment. Because sweat is a hypotonic solution, excess salt can build up in the body if the water lost through sweating is not replaced…Water must be take every 15 to 20 minutes in hot environments. Recent studies have shown that drinking commercially available carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids is effective in minimizing physiological disturbances.”
Heat exhaustion is signaled by headache, vertigo, weakness, thirst, and giddiness. It should receive immediate attention. Rest, cooling, and hydration are essential.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-stress disorder. It is considered a medical emergency because it may cause death. Core body temperature rises, and confusion, irrational behavior and convulsions are among the symptoms.
There are several actions employers should take to counter heat-related disorders. Allow workers to acclimatize. If the ambient temperature suddenly rises to 90° F after a long period of days at 60° F, allow workers time to adjust. They cannot simply keep working at the same pace.
Also be sure that employees replace fluids and have access to rest areas that allow for cooling and hydration. If there is extreme heat, reschedule jobs.
Very high summer temperatures often are correlated with diminished air quality. In all cases, monitor employees and be sure they self-monitor and monitor colleagues. All should be able to recognize the symptoms of heat disorder.
“Water. Rest. Shade.” OSHA recommends the trio be conveyed to each worker as a way to thwart heat illness. OSHA offers posters in pdf format (e.g., www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/osha_heat_poster_en.pdf) that remind workers of precautions they should be taking—from drinking water to hats and sunscreen.
Situational awareness encompasses every component of safety. In summer, the list of concerns may not be longer, but it is different from other seasons.
Rodents, snakes, and insects, for example, are a larger concern in summer when their activity level increases. They actually pose a threat year-round because debris can second as a nice cold-weather habitat for all three groups.
OSHA offers a Quick Card™ on rodents, snakes, and insects (www.osha.gov/Publications/rodents_snakes_insects.html). The bullet pointed advice is pithy and proactive.
Long pants, long sleeves, socks, and boots provide a great deal of protection. Gloves should be used whenever moving objects that block access to a target site. The objects may be occupied by resident rodents or overwintering stinging and biting insects.
Avoid contact with stray animals and animals in general. If an animal, such as a squirrel, is acting erratically, report it to animal control because it’s probably rabid.
Many contractors encounter rats. It’s not pleasant, but the experience is part of working to clean dumpsters, parking lots, and other settings. Avoid contact with rats. Wear gloves.
What if there are dead animals at a job site? Unless it’s a relatively large animal, most animal control will not retrieve it. Be prepared to bury dead animals. Carry a shovel.
Rapidly changing weather conditions are common in the summer. Afternoon thunderstorms with high wind gusts are the norm in many parts of the country. Keep the possibility of storms in mind when setting up scaffolds and ladders.
If an electrical storm approaches, find a place to take shelter. If possible, make it inside a building.
Recognizing potential hazards at a summer job site is the first step in safety. Knowing how to mitigate them is the second one. And being prepared to respond to a negative event is the third.
Preparation need not be done alone. Professional organizations like PWNA and UAMCC offer courses and seminars in safety. Take advantage of the instruction, which is valuable in itself and which also affords an opportunity to interact with industry colleagues and share concerns and solutions.
In addition to the tools offered by OSHA, there is a new infographics series from the National Weather Service that is very good. Compact and visually arresting, the series covers topics such as air quality, flood, heat, hurricane, lightning, and tornado. The graphics make it easy to review topics. (See www.weather.gov/wrn/summer-infographics.)
Part of the National Aeronautic and Atmospheric Administration, the NWS also provides infographics about summer safety worth sharing with family. Among the topics are beach, camping, boating, and swimming activities, as well as pet safety and locks.
It’s good to see the emphasis on locks. Always look first before closing a vehicle door. Make sure keys are in hand. It’s not a disaster if we lock keys in a work vehicle, thanks to having inadvertently hit the lock button on our controller. It is a grave situation, however, if we do the same and lock a car with children or pets inside.
There’s a corollary to the look before locking. Never leave anyone in a closed vehicle. According to NWS, temperature inside a vehicle can climb to 140° F or even 190° F in 30 minutes.
First aid classes offered by the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) meet OSHA requirements for training. Combining online and classroom instruction, the first aid course prepares individuals to respond to events. Even those not required to have the training can benefit from the increased confidence and calm approach the course fosters. Red Cross also offers targeted classes (e.g., CPR) related to its first aid signature course.
Achieving safety on the summer job site can be summed up by a S-A-F-E-T-Y acrostic:
Surroundings must be assessed. How hot is it? What about humidity and air quality? Are storms likely?
Avoidance must be practiced. Do not work in direct sun or tangle with critters and vermin.
Focus must be acute. Try not to be distracted by thinking about a day’s end dip in the pool.
Energy must be conserved. Working through excessive perspiration and overheating is not an option. Take a break for water and cooling when needed.
Tools (for response) must be ready. The basics for wound care and insect bites and stings should be carried in vehicles.
You must be committed to the process.