When the cold temperatures of winter fade away, and the heat of the summer approaches, it is important to look at how workplace safety can be affected. Each season brings with it a different set of safety concerns, and if not properly addressed, it can lead to accidents, injuries or illness that could have otherwise been prevented. Taking the time to look at workplace summer hazards, and how to respond to them, can help keep a facility running smoothly.
Types of Summer Hazards
There are many types of summer safety hazards that need to be taken into account when making a facility safety plan in the hot summer months. The following are some of the most significant risks that may be present in a facility:
- Heat Stress – Many facilities can get quite warm due to the heavy machinery, even in the winter. In the summer, the temperatures of a facility can top 110 very easily. Heat stress is very dangerous, and needs to be taken seriously.
- Sun Exposure – When working outside, direct exposure to the hot sun can be cause a variety of problems. Sun burn, for example, can be very painful and even lead to serious skin problems. The direct sun can also contribute to heat stress, and dehydration. Sun exposure builds up over time, so while some people might not recognize the risk, it is certainly a danger that can cause major problems.
- Dehydration – When working in high temperatures people can become dehydrated very quickly. In dryer climates, people will sweat a lot, but it will evaporate quickly so they don’t notice it. This can lead to severe dehydration much more quickly than most people expect.
- Dangerous Bugs – In many parts of the world there are poisonous bugs that come out during the summer. These bugs can bite or sting people, causing a variety of illnesses or injuries that need to be addressed quickly. Bugs that aren’t poisonous can also be very dangerous. Bees and other stinging bugs, as well as mosquitoes can be very painful, and can even spread diseases.
- Animals – In the hot summer months, some animals will try to enter buildings to get into the shade. These animals can become frightened and dangerous if they feel trapped. Even outside, animals like snakes can be very dangerous. Animals may also be looking for food, and many of them have gotten used to being around humans. If they feel threatened, however, they can still attack.
It is easy to see how the changing seasons can bring about many different hazards to a workplace. By acknowledging these risks, and taking steps to minimize them, it is possible to keep everyone healthy and productive throughout the summer.
Keeping Facilities Safe during the summer
Once the risks of working during the summer are identified, it is time to take steps to help limit or eliminate them. Each facility will have to come up with an effective strategy for each hazard that they are facing. Example of this would be training your employees on Heat Stress Causes using a training DVD (similar to this one). In addition to effective strategies, the solutions must be feasible. In many cases, the solution won’t be as obvious as most people would like.
For example, when a facility reaches temperatures of 120+ degrees, it is clearly unsafe to work in the area. The obvious solution is to reduce the temperature, but that may not always be possible. When the temperature on the outside is 90-100 degrees, and there are machines producing heat inside, it can be very difficult to regulate temperature. Air conditioners often can’t keep up with the cooling requirements, and ventilation is ineffective due to the high temperatures outside. Finding alternative solutions may take more time, but it is often the only option.
How to Fight the Heat
According to OSHA, here are the top factors that put workers at risk of heat related injuries:
- High temperature and humidity
- Radiant heat sources
- Contact with hot objects
- Direct sun exposure (with no shade)
- Limited air movement (no breeze, wind or ventilation)
- Physical exertion
- Use of bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment
In many cases, the biggest problem associated with working in the summer is the heat from the sun. When this is the case, facilities need to come up with ways to keep everyone safe, despite the high temperatures. There are many options to choose from, and in many cases it will take a combined effort to accomplish. Some effective strategies include:
- Frequent Breaks – Offer employees frequent, short breaks to bring down their body temperature. Depending on the type of work being done, a few minutes each hour is often enough.
- Cool Rooms – Provide small rooms with air conditioning that are kept at a low temperature. This can be a place where employees can go to recover, and rest during their breaks. It is much easier to cool a small room than an entire facility.
- Lots of Liquids – Provide employees with lots of water and other liquids to help their bodies regulate temperature. Encourage them to drink as often as possible to remain hydrated.
- Ice or Popsicles – Offer ice and popsicles to the employees to help cool them off. These are great ways to not only lower the body temperature, but also rehydrate and provide energy.
- Air Circulation – Keep the air circulating as much as possible by using fans or other methods. Even if it is warm air being circulated, it is still better than allowing it to become stagnant.
- Sun Protection – When working outside, it is important to keep employees protected from the sun. This can be done by providing shade wherever possible, and offering sunscreen for those who are working in direct sunlight. In addition, wearing long sleeves and a hat is also a good idea to prevent sunburn and other similar issues.
Protection from Insects & Animals
In addition to the heat, the summer also brings with it a number of different types of potentially dangerous insects and animals. In most cases, these creatures don’t pose much threat to people, because they can either be avoided, or the animals are able to run away without any conflict. On many worksites, however, animals are trapped or hiding in some type of equipment.
When employees enter the area, they can cause the animals to attack, which can be very dangerous or even life threatening for both the people and the animals. Whether it is something small like a hive of bees, or something larger like a sleeping bear, wild animals can be a major threat, especially in the summer months.
In order to keep everyone safe while at work, it is a good idea to provide training to the employees on how to minimize the risk. This training can start by instructing people to make extra noise while traveling through an area. Whether talking, whistling, singing or humming, the noise will alert larger animals to their approach, giving them the chance to run away.
For poisonous bugs, insects, lizards and other small animals, it is most important to be alert and watch out for signs of these dangerous creatures. If you see bees, wasps or other flying insects in the area, it likely means there is a nest of hive around. Avoiding the area until it can be properly checked out will help prevent injury. For other small animals, it is best to use caution when moving equipment or supplies where they might be hiding beneath.
If there are known problems with bugs or other animals, employers are responsible for taking action to have them removed. This can include setting traps or even hiring professionals to take care of the problem. Animals can be a significant risk not only to the safety of the employees, but to the entire facility. Some animals can chew through electrical wires, and others can damage products or equipment. During the summer months, animals are often very active, and must be seen as a serious threat.