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Health & Safety: Keep control of summer work hazards

June 30, 2023  By The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)

Pesky mosquito bites begin to appear with heat and humidity. Photo credit: Dimid/Adobe Stock

Many outdoor workers welcome summer as their busiest and most lucrative season. But along with soaring temperatures and growing vegetation come several potential hazards, which is why it’s important to stay vigilant and take protective measures. 

Here are four tips for improving health and safety in an outdoor work environment:

Keep the biters at bay
The pesky mosquito bites that start to appear with heat and humidity may give you more than an itch – they can also infect you with West Nile virus, which may cause severe illness, and could even lead to death. Most people infected with West Nile virus have either no symptoms, or they have flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, or body aches. 

The greatest risk of developing West Nile virus happens between dusk and dawn. Workers should wear appropriate protective clothing including socks, shoes, light-coloured long pants (less attractive to mosquitoes), and long-sleeved shirts. Spray clothing with insect repellent containing DEET, an active ingredient that prevents mosquitoes from biting through thin clothing. 


Try to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds by preventing or removing stagnant water. Regularly drain water from wheelbarrows, pool covers, flowerpot saucers, garbage cans, and other containers. Change bird bath water twice a week, cover, or screen groundwater barrels, and chlorinate the water in ornamental ponds.

Don’t forget to carry a first aid kit and a “bee sting” kit if there is a risk of injury or a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting. You should alert your supervisor if you sustain any injuries or allergic reactions, and make sure co-workers are trained to assist.


Never underestimate lightning
Environment Canada says lightning kills six to 12 people every year and seriously injures another 60 to 70. Prime thunderstorm times in Canada are April to October in the late afternoon or evening, and just before sunrise.

There is no safe place to be outdoors during a storm, however, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of being struck by lightning. The safest place to be in a thunderstorm is inside a fully enclosed building that has electrical wiring, plumbing, a telephone line, or antennas to ground the lightning if the building should be hit directly. Stay away from doors, windows, and anything that will conduct electricity such as radiators, stoves, sinks, and metal pipes. Use only battery-operated telephones and appliances during the storm.

The next best place to wait out a storm is in an enclosed metal vehicle that is not parked near trees or anything tall that could fall over. Roll up the windows and be careful not to touch any part of the metal frame or any wired device in the vehicle (including the steering wheel or a plugged-in cell phone). 

To protect yourself, stay away from tall objects, water, and anything that conducts electricity. You can take shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys or ditches but watch for flooding.

Covered picnic shelters, carports, tents, and baseball dugouts with no electricity or plumbing to ground the lightning are not safe.

If you are in a group in the open, spread out several metres apart from one another. If you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to hit you. Crouch down on the balls of your feet immediately with feet together, place your arms around your knees, and bend forward. Don’t lie flat. 

Remember the 30-30 rule: when you can count 30 seconds or less between lightning and thunder, head for safe shelter and remain there for 30 minutes after the last thunder clap. 

Stay cool to prevent heat-related illness
When working outdoors, it is crucial to take precautions to prevent your body from overheating. Stay hydrated. Whether or not you feel thirsty, it is extremely important to drink plenty of water, generally one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, to replace the fluids you lose in the heat. 

Keep cool. For landscapers, staying out of the sun altogether is next to impossible, but try to save demanding tasks for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense. Take breaks from the sun and heat to cool off in the shade or in air-conditioned buildings or vehicles. 

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, UV-rated sunglasses, and a wide-brim hat for protection. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. 

Breathe easy
The summer heat and humidity can increase air pollution, making it harder for people with bronchitis, emphysema and asthma to breathe, or cause heart problems in others. To protect yourself, check the air quality health index from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention. www.ccohs.ca

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