Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

June 24, 2013

 

Outdoor awareness for the summer

Sunlight

Friday, June 21, makes summer official. Here are a few reminders for folks who work outdoors:

Sun

You probably know sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation that causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. What are you doing to protect yourself? Four reminders:

Heat

Summer heat and humidity can cause heat illness, which is a serious health threat and a safety risk. Take it easy on your first days of work in the heat. Make sure your worksite has potable water and a clean way to dispense it.

Start drinking fluids before you get thirsty. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing and eat light meals before you do strenuous work. If you take medications for a health condition, check with your health-care provider to make sure that you are able to work in higher temperatures.

Take frequent rest breaks when you work in the heat. Rest in the shade – at least five minutes – when you need to cool down. Prolonged work makes it harder to concentrate on what you are doing, which can increase the risk of an accident.

Poison oak

In Oregon, poison oak grows primarily in the western part of the state along roadsides, in uncultivated fields, in wood lots, and in recreation areas. The plant can be a shrub from three to 10 feet high or a woody vine that clings to trees and other shrubs. The leaves look like oak leaves in groups of three on a common stem.

Poison oak emits urushiol, a poisonous, oily irritant. The oil chemically locks on to skin proteins within 20 minutes after exposure to any part of the plant — stem, roots, branches, or leaves. Contaminated clothes, pets, and tools can also transfer the oil to humans. The result? Rash; itching; swelling; reddish, inflamed, and tiny pimples; and blisters that, if left untreated, can last up to five weeks.

As soon as you know you are exposed, thoroughly wash the exposed skin with soap and lots of cold water, followed by rubbing alcohol or a solution of water and alcohol in equal proportions to remove unabsorbed urushiol. Don't bathe to remove urushiol because you will contaminate more of your body. Wash contaminated clothing separately. Never burn poison oak; burning transports the oil on smoke particles, which cause severe reparatory irritation.

Bees and wasps

Unless you really annoy bees or wasps, they probably will not sting you. If you don't want their company, avoid wearing perfume, cologne, or brightly colored or patterned clothing. If you see bees flying to and from a particular place, stay away. If you disturb their nest, they will defend it vigorously. You can also irritate yellow jackets (the common name in North America for predatory wasps) when you try to swat them away from food; in the late summer and fall, they become particularly aggressive as their food sources become scarce.

If you are stung, you will feel an immediate sharp pain for a few minutes that becomes a dull ache. Your body responds by liberating fluid from the blood to flush the venom, which causes redness and swelling. Look for a stinger. Honeybees have barbed stingers and if one stings you, the stinger usually stays in the wound. Remove it quickly to reduce the severity of the sting; technique is not that important. Use a cold compress to reduce the pain of a sting.

A small percentage of the population is allergic to bee or wasp stings. Life-threatening reactions include symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and wheezing, which may begin immediately or up to 30 minutes after a sting. Severe allergic reactions require immediate medical treatment.

Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us!

But remember: the information in this newsletter is intended to highlight safe work practices, but it does not replace Oregon OSHA workplace safety and health rules.

For information about Oregon OSHA services and answers to technical questions, call (503) 378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, (800) 922-2689.