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Staying Safe at Your Summer Job

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Many young people across the country take on temporary jobs each summer. Working part time through the school year or taking on temporary work during the summer are great ways to build up your savings while you’re still living at home, perhaps for future tuition, or just to earn some fun money to spend when you’re out with your friends. These jobs also play an important role in teaching you responsibility, the value of money and many other important lessons that will help you as you enter adulthood.

Of course, these jobs also introduce you to new types of risks and it is important you learn about these risks BEFORE you begin working. It is your right to be properly trained for any work you are asked to perform and your duty to ask for that training if it isn’t immediately offered. You may be tempted to try to impress your new boss or coworkers, but it’s never worth risking your life, limbs or health. If you don’t know how to perform a task properly, you need to ask for training and direction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

In this blog post, we are going to look at some of the most common risk factors that students encounter while working temporary, summer jobs outside. Try to think about your own workplace as you read through them and consider what risks are present in your job.

You can also check out this video produced by WorkSafe BC about working safely in the sun and heat!

Working Outside

There are many health and safety risks that are unique to working outdoors. There are several types of jobs that may require you to work outside all or some of the time. These can include things like landscaping, construction, farming or ranching, and other similar types of work. There are even some customer service jobs that are performed outside some or all of the time – consider restaurant servers working on a patio, or events staff working a food or drink concession. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the jobs you could do that might involve working outside.

When you are working outside in the summer, it is important to be aware of risks and hazards such as:

  1. The Heat
  2. The Sun
  3. Bugs and Animals
  4. Poisonous Plants
  5. Uneven ground / Tripping Hazards
  6. Air Quality

1. The Heat

Dog-overheatIt is of vital importance that you fully appreciate the hazard that heat poses to your health. Whether you are working inside or outside, heat can pose a very significant risk. This is often compounded when working outside by the beating sun, which we will discuss next. Heat illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat fainting, heat edema, heat rash and heat cramps. Heat illnesses can affect you very quickly and are mainly caused by over-exposure to heat or over-exertion in the heat.

Know your risks

Hot temperatures can be dangerous, especially if you have:

  • breathing difficulties;
  • heart problems;
  • hypertension;
  • kidney problems;
  • a mental illness such as depression or dementia;
  • Parkinson’s disease; or
  • if you take medication for any of these conditions.

If you are taking medication or have a health condition, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it increases your health risk in the heat and follow their recommendations.

Know the signs and symptomsdefault

Symptoms of heat illness include:

  • dizziness or fainting;
  • nausea or vomiting;
  • headache;
  • rapid breathing and heartbeat;
  • extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva); and
  • decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine.

If you experience any of these symptoms during hot weather, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids. Water is best.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency!

Call 911 immediately if you are caring for someone who has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating.

While waiting for help, cool the person right away by:

  • moving them to a cool place, if you can;
  • applying cold water to large areas of the skin or clothing; and
  • fanning the person as much as possible.

Heat illness can be prevented

Heat-Stress

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of cool liquids, especially water, before you feel thirsty to decrease your risk of dehydration. Thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration. If you consume alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, make sure that you drink extra water to ward off dehydration.

There are several ways that you can increase your water intake:

  • Remind yourself to drink water by always carrying water with you.
  • Flavouring water with natural fruit juice may make it more appealing.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables as they have a high water content.
  • If you eat less, you may need to drink more water.

Stay cool

Dress for the weather – Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made from breathable fabric.

Avoid sun exposure

Shade yourself by wearing a wide-brimmed, breathable hat or using an umbrella.

  • Tree-shaded areas could be as much as 5°C/9°F cooler than the surrounding area.
  • Use a sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays but not from the heat.

You can learn more about Heat Illness and prevention by taking our certified Heat Illness Awareness course.
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2. The Sun

the-sun-in-the-skyFor far too long, we have accepted sunburns as a normal part of summer. Over the past couple of decades, however, we have finally begun to take sunburns seriously and acknowledge how dangerous they really are. Sunburns can damage your skin in permanent ways and even play a major role in the development of skin cancer and other skin disorders.

In 2014, as many as 7,000 cases of skin cancer were attributed to occupational sun exposure. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer.

On top of increasing your risk of skin cancer, sunburns exacerbate the effects of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Sunburn Symptoms

Mild and uncomplicated cases of sunburn usually result in minor skin redness and irritation. Untreated and with enough exposure, you can experience shock (poor circulation to vital organs) and even death (sun poisoning).  Sufficient exposure can be remarkably painful.

Initially, your skin turns red about 2-6 hours after exposure and feels irritated.  The peak effects of sun exposure are most noticeable at 12-24 hours after exposure.

Severe cases of sunburn are complicated by severe skin burning and blistering, massive fluid loss (dehydration), electrolyte imbalance, and infection.

sunburn_300x174_479516899Other common symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting or both
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Blistering – May range from a very fine blister that is only found when you begin to “peel” to very large water-filled blisters with red, tender, raw skin underneath
  • Skin loss – About 4-7 days after exposure

Self-Care at Home

Home care starts before a sunburn occurs; wear sunscreen.  If you are prepared before going out in the sun, you probably won’t need these tips and techniques.

Immediate self-care is aimed at stopping the UV radiation.

  • Get out of the sun
  • Cover exposed skin

225-img-art-5If needed medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen are useful, and can help with pain.

For mild sunburn, cool compresses with equal parts of milk and water may suffice.  Soak gauze or a soft clean cloth in it.  Gently wring out the cloth and apply to the sunburned area for 15-20 minutes.  Change or refresh the cloth and solution every 2-3 hours.

Aloe-based lotions or freshly squeezed aloe vera gel are also great for soothing the sunburn and putting moisture back into your skin.

Cool (not ice cold) baths may help.  If you are going to do this to cool down then you must avoid bath salts, oils, and perfumes because these may produce sensitivity reactions or promote infection if you have blistering.  Avoid scrubbing the skin or shaving the skin.  Use soft towels to gently dry yourself.  Don’t rub.  Use a light, fragrance-free skin moisturizer.

Obviously, stay out of the sun while you are sunburned.

Prevention

The best way to deal with a sunburn is to avoid getting one in the first place. If your job requires you to be outside, it is important that you take certain precautions to avoid sunburns.

  • sunscreenWear sunscreen and re-apply it frequently.
    • SPF is actually a ratio of the time it takes to produce a skin reaction on protected and unprotected skin.  Thus, a 30 SPF sunscreen would in theory allow you to be exposed 30 times longer than with no sunscreen.
    • Sunscreen should be applied in generous amounts in layers and reapplied after being exposed.  Activities such as sweating and swimming degrade its effectiveness.
    • Make sure that you apply sunscreen over all exposed skin – don’t forget your ears, under your arms, etc.
  • Wear lightweight clothing that covers most of your skin.
    • Wearing long sleeves and pants will help limit the amount of exposure to the sun. Lightweight, light coloured clothing can even help you keep cool in the sun.
  • Wear a hat.
    • The top of your head is extremely sensitive to UV radiation and not exactly easy to apply sunscreen to. If you are going to be working outside for any length of time, wearing a hat will almost certainly be the difference between going home comfortable or going home with a painful, itchy, sunburnt scalp.

Even if you don’t end up with a sunburn, after-sun care is very important to maintain healthy skin. If you spend a lot of time outside, you would be wise to invest in a good quality after-sun lotion that contains aloe. Drinking plenty of water is also very important. If you are going home with dry skin at the end of the day, that is a pretty big sign that you are not consuming enough water throughout the day and may be becoming dehydrated.
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3. Bugs and Wildlife

insect-repellentBugs such as mosquitoes are not just annoying; they are also disease-carrying hazards for workers. Bug prevention should be a part of your summer safety program. Fortunately, preventing bug bites can be as simple as following these summer safety tips:

  • Apply insect repellent – There are many types of insect repellent. What you should look out for are the natural ingredients contained in the product that are safe for the skin and won’t cause irritation. Another factor is the hours of protection each product offers. Insect repellent comes in 3 hours to 8 hours of protection. Remember to re-apply repellent if you’ll be working outside for a longer period.
  • Wear the right clothes – Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when working outside especially in wooded areas. Tuck your pants into your shoes or socks to prevent crawling insects from getting inside. You can even apply special insect repellent on your clothes to keep the bugs out. Avoid brightly coloured clothes that are attractive to bees and other insects.
  • Destroy mosquito breeding grounds – Remove stagnant water in your work areas. These stagnant waters are often used by mosquitoes as breeding grounds for their young. Prevent these bugs from multiplying by getting rid of their nursing areas.

Preventing Lyme Disease

If your summer job involves working in forested areas or other environments in which exposure to ticks may occur, it is important that your workplace has a plan in place to protect workers. As an employee, it is your responsibility to make sure that you ask your supervisor about potential tick exposure, what policies and procedures exist to protect you and what your role is within those policies and procedures.

147860-004-FB213D3CFollow these common prevention techniques to keep yourself and your coworkers safe from ticks:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing to help find ticks more easily.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants. Wear a hat if contact with overhead vegetation cannot be avoided. Wear closed footwear and socks.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Use a bug (tick) repellent that contains 20 to 30% “DEET”. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the repellent. Spray or apply it to your exposed skin and outer clothing.
  • Avoid bushy areas and long grass when possible.
  • Immediately after outdoor work do a total body inspection for ticks. Pay close attention to armpits, in and around ears, behind knees, areas with body hair, navel and groin. Have a friend or coworker check the areas of your back that you cannot see yourself and do the same for them.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors.
  • Check any equipment or gear that you may have brought with you outside for ticks.
  • Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
  • If you find any ticks, report it to your employer so that other workers can be made aware of the hazard and recheck themselves for ticks.

Treatment and removal of ticks

Prompt removal of attached ticks (within 24 to 36 hours) can decrease the risk of infection. If you do find a tick on yourself, your pet or someone else, you can submit it to Alberta Health for testing as part of an ongoing surveillance program. Ticks will be checked to see if they are blacklegged ticks. All blacklegged ticks will be tested to see if they carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that can cause Lyme disease in humans. Results of this program will help Alberta Health monitor for changes to the risk of Lyme disease in Alberta.

Visit the Alberta Health website for more information about Lyme disease and tick surveillance in Alberta.

Other Bugs and Wildlife

Mosquitoes and ticks are not the only insects or animals that can pose a hazard to people who work outside. When you start a new job outdoors, make sure that you ask about the animal and insect populations in the area that you are working in. It is important that you are aware of any wildlife in the area and how to work safely around those species. Bears, large cats, caribou and other large animals can pose a threat to your physical safety if you are not careful. It is also important to know about species of snakes, rodents or other potentially poisonous or dangerous animals in the area.

Anyone working in the forested areas of Alberta and BC should have Bear Safety training, at a minimum.
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4. Poisonous Plants

poison-ivy2Poisonous plants pose a health hazard for workers in certain types of environments. It is important that you find out from your employer if there are any poisonous plants in the work area and what you can do to avoid contact with them. Coming into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak can cause an allergic reaction, typically in the form of a rash.

A plant induced rash is caused by contact with oil called urushiol. Urushiol is found in the sap of the poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. It is a colourless or pale yellow oil that oozes from any cut or crushed part of the plant. Once exposed to air, urushiol turns brownish-black in colour. Damaged leaves look like they have spots of black enamel thus making it easier to recognize and identify the plant.

Contact with urushiol can occur in three ways:

  • Direct contact – by touching the sap of the toxic plant.
  • Indirect contact – by touching something on which urushiol is present. This oil can stick to the fur of animals, to garden tools, sports equipment, or to any objects that may have come into contact with it.
  • Airborne contact – by burning the poison plants. This will release the urushiol particles into the air.

When urushiol gets on the skin, it will begin to penetrate in minutes. A reaction appears, usually within 12 to 48 hours. There is severe itching, redness, and swelling, followed by blisters. This rash is often arranged in streaks or lines where the person brushed against the plant. In a few days, the blisters will become crusted and take 10 days or longer to heal. Poison plant dermatitis can affect any part of the body. The rash does not spread by touching it, although it may seem to when it breaks out in new areas. This may happen because the urushiol absorbs more slowly into skin that is thicker, skin such as on the forearms, legs, and trunk.

poison-ivyAbout 85 percent of the population will develop an allergic reaction when exposed to poison ivy. The sensitivity will vary from person to person. For people who reach adulthood without becoming sensitive, they will then have only a 50 percent chance of developing an allergy to poison ivy. However, only about 15 percent of the population seems to be resistant.

Prevention of Poison Rashes

Prevent the misery of a poison rash by looking out for the poison plants and staying away from them. Learn how to identify these plants.

You can destroy these weeds with herbicides in your own backyard, but this will not be practical when you are working in the field. If you are going to be in areas where you know these poison plants will likely be growing, wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves.

Since urushiol can travel in the wind if the plants are burned in a fire, do not burn plants that look like poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.

Barrier skin creams such as a lotion containing bentoquatum offer some protection before contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Over-the-counter products prevent urushiol from penetrating the skin. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for details.
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5. Uneven Ground / Tripping Hazards

exposed-tree-roots-1430311-mWhen you are working outside, whether on a construction site, out in a forested area or field, or even in a city park, it is quite likely that you are going to be walking and working on uneven ground. It is important to pay attention to where you are stepping and to do your part to keep the work area clear of tripping hazards. Before you start working, you can do a visual scan of the work area and pick up any stones, sticks, tools or other hazards that are laying around. Also take note of any holes in the ground, depressions and bumps.

Wearing the right footwear for the job is also important. When you’re working in a forest or in a mountainous area, for example, you will want to be wearing boots that provide some ankle support, so that if you do step in a depression or you are walking on uneven ground, you don’t roll an ankle as easily.
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6. Air Quality

Air quality can have a significant impact on your respiratory health. Check out our recent post, “Air Quality and Your Health“.
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