Hazards to Outdoor Workers
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Outdoor workers are exposed to many types of hazards that depend on their type of work, geographic region, season, and duration of time they are outside. Industry sectors with outdoor workers include the agriculture, forestry, fishing, construction, mining, transportation, warehousing, utilities, and service sectors. Outdoor workers include farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers, gardeners, painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, laborers, mechanics, and any other worker who spends time outside. Employers should train outdoor workers about their workplace hazards, including hazard identification and recommendations for preventing and controlling their exposures.
Physical hazards to outdoor workers may include extreme heat, extreme cold, noise, lightning, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Extreme heat conditions can cause heat stroke, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, and other problems. Extreme cold conditions can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and other problems. Too much noise exposure may cause a temporary change in hearing or a temporary ringing in workers' ears (tinnitus). Repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent, incurable hearing loss or tinnitus. Lightning kills about 80 people in the United States each year and injures hundreds. Among construction workers, laborers, machine operators, engineers, roofers, and pipefitters have been struck by lightning most often on the job. UV radiation can cause problems such as sunburn and skin cancer.
Biological hazards include vector-borne diseases, venomous wildlife and insects, and poisonous plants. Vector-borne diseases may be spread to workers by insects, such as mosquitoes, or ticks. When a mosquito or tick bites a worker, it may transfer a disease-causing agent, such as a parasite, bacterium, or virus. Mosquito-borne diseases include West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, and LaCrosse encephalitis. Tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, anaplasmosis, Colorado tick fever, Powassan encephalitis, and Q fever.
Outdoor workers in the United States may be exposed to many types of venomous wildlife and insects. Venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and stinging insects can be found throughout various geographic regions. They are especially dangerous to workers who have allergies to the animal. Anaphylactic shock is the body’s severe allergic reaction to a bite or sting and requires immediate emergency care. Thousands of people are stung each year, and as many as 40–50 people in the United States die each year from severe allergic reactions. Venomous U.S. snakes include rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins, and coral snakes. Stinging insects include bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants. Venomous spiders include black widows, brown recluse spiders, and hobo spiders.
Poisonous plants found in the United States include poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These plants can cause allergic reactions if the leaves or stalks are damaged and come in contact with workers’ skin. These plants can also be dangerous if they are burned and their toxins are inhaled by workers. Nearly one-third of forestry workers and firefighters who battle forest fires in California, Oregon, and Washington develop rashes or lung irritations from contact with poison oak, which is the most common poisonous plant in those states.
Outdoor workers may encounter other hazards in addition to the physical and biological hazards described here. They may be exposed to pesticides or other chemical hazards, traumatic injury hazards, or other safety and health hazards depending on their specific job and tasks. Employers should train outdoor workers about their workplace hazards, including hazard identification and recommendations for preventing and controlling their exposures.
OSHA Fact Sheet: Protecting Workers From Effects of Heat
OSHA Fact Sheet: Working Outdoors in Warm Climates
CDC Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety
CDC Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety
Recommendations for Protecting Outdoor Workers from West Nile Virus Exposure
Utah State University (USU) Extension: West Nile Virus in Utah
OSHA Lyme Disease Alert Fact Sheet
OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin: Potential for Occupational Exposure to Lyme Disease External link: http://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib021103.html
OSHA Fact Sheet: Cottonmouth Snakes (Water Moccasin)
CDC Snakes: Pictorial Key to Venomous Species in the U.S.
OSHA Fact Sheet: Fire Ants
CDC Stinging Hymenoptera: Pictorial Key to Some Common U.S. Families
OSHA Fact Sheet: Black Widow Spider
OSHA Fact Sheet: Brown Recluse Spider
CDC Spiders: Key to Some Important U.S. Species
CDC Scorpions: Pictorial Key to Some Common U.S. Species