Illinois Work Comp: Safety Tips: Protecting Workers from Summer Hazards
The dog days of summer are upon us - and with it come a set of seasonal hazards that could raise workplace liability issues for employers. Every year, hundreds of thousands of teenagers take on summer jobs - many of them involving long periods of time outdoors. Teens become camp counselors, youth league coaches, laborers and lifeguards.
As an employer, it falls to you to take some basic precautions to protect young workers from a variety of summer hazards:
- Educate workers about the dangers of prolonged exposure to the sun, including skin cancers and eye damage, which can affect workers at any age.
- Watch out for workers with fair skin, especially with freckles. If a worker burns before he tans, or has many moles, he is more susceptible to eye damage and skin cancer.
- Make sure workers are acclimated to high temperatures - especially in humid environments. They cannot go from sedentary lives in an air conditioned environment, such as school, to hard landscaping labor in the hot sun for hours at a time. Foremen should manage breaks carefully.
- Monitor workers for signs of heat exhaustion, including dilated pupils, listlessness, dizziness, excessive fatigue, excessive sweating, disorientation, stammering or slurred speech.
- Educate workers and supervisors about heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate the workers' body temperature, and is a life-threatening condition. Signs of heat stroke include cold, clammy skin, cessation of sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Cool the worker immediately, and seek immediate medical attention.
- Strive to provide a shaded work area wherever practicable.
- Impose a dress code. Clothing should be light and allow the skin to breathe, but should cover as much skin as possible.
- Provide sunblock on the worksite: SBF 15 or higher. Insist that workers use it, and apply it every couple of hours.
- Provide cool water on the worksite, and ensure workers drink it often and regularly. Other options include Gatorade or other formulated sports drinks, which can also help replace salts and electrolytes as well as water. Be careful with sodas or teas - they can actually draw water out of the body.
- Don't expect workers to "tough it out" when they feel ill in the heat. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren't something workers can "tough out." Tell workers to tell supervisors immediately.
- Do the hardest work during the coolest part of the day - very early or very late.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, applying it liberally, and reapplying it every 2 hours when sweating heavily.
- Wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses that block UV rays.
- Limit direct sun exposure and seek shade whenever possible.
- Drink plenty of cool water, about a cup every 15 minutes.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, which make the body lose water, and also avoid heavy meals.
- Take frequent, short breaks in cool, shaded areas.
- Build up tolerance to the heat and work activity without over-exertion.
- Perform the heaviest work during the coolest part of the day.
- Tell co-workers if feeling ill.
Look for more OSHA articles highlighting ways teens can identify and prevent other worksite hazards in the landscaping industry.