Canada Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and more time being spent outdoors. And whether you work or play in the great outdoors, you are at greater risk of illness and injury that can come with excessive sun exposure, extreme heat and insect stings. There are precautions you can take to make your summer injury free.
Shun the sun
Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancer, and can weaken your immune system. When the UV index (intensity of the sun's UVB rays) is 3 or higher, take the following precautions:
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun, especially to the intense midday rays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and be aware that you can get sunburn on a cloudy day.
- Seek shaded areas for outdoor activities where possible. When this is not feasible (e.g. for work), set up shade structures or use umbrellas, buildings, trees, canopies, etc., to shield against the direct rays from the sun.
- Cover and protect your skin by wearing a broad brimmed hat, lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Wear UV blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Apply waterproof sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30, and UVA and UVB protection, to all exposed parts of your body. Re-apply every two hours and after sweating or swimming.
Beat the heat
People who work outside or in hot environments, such as mines, agriculture fields, roofs, construction sites, and bakeries, are particularly at risk for, and need to know how to prevent, potentially serious heat-related illness. Heat stress is a buildup of body heat that without proper precautions can develop into heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition. As the internal body temperature increases, the heart rate rises and the body becomes overwhelmed.
Employers can take these steps to keep their workers safe:
- Evaluate the situation, and, if necessary, implement a heat stress control program.
- Manage work activities so that they match the employee's physical condition and the temperature.
- Train workers on the serious health risks of heat illness, how to avoid it, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to do if it happens.
- Keep workers cool. Allow some flexibility in work arrangements during hot conditions. If possible, schedule heavy tasks, and work that requires personal protective equipment (PPE), for cooler times such as early mornings or evenings.
- Keep the work area cool, or provide air-conditioned rest areas.
- Provide plenty of water for those who are working in the heat. Encourage them to drink even if they don't feel thirsty and to take frequent rest breaks.
There are also steps workers can take to prevent heat illness:
- Take time to acclimatize; it can take up to two weeks to build up a tolerance for working in hot conditions. Adapt your work and pace to the temperature, and to how you feel.
- Take breaks to cool off in the shade, or in an air-conditioned building or vehicle to help prevent your body from overheating. If you don't have a shady or cool place, reduce your physical efforts.
- Keep cool. Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible, and save physically demanding tasks for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense. Wear lightweight clothing and, if necessary, consider wearing a cooling vest to help keep your body temperature down.
- Stay hydrated. This is essential. As a general guideline, drink one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. If you are on medication, find out if it can cause your body to react to the sun and heat.
- Recognize the symptoms of heat stress in yourself and your co-workers. These symptoms include rash, cramping, fainting, excessive sweating, headache, and dizziness. You may not see or feel the effects so always use the buddy system to monitor one another.
Avoid the sting
Stinging insects can cause mild, temporary pain, and redness in some people, but they can severely endanger the lives of others. Insect stings can have life-threatening effects, depending on where the sting occurs and what allergies you have. Although rare, the most severe allergic reaction to a sting is anaphylaxis (also called anaphylactic shock). Of those people who die from a severe allergic reaction to a sting, half die within 30 minutes and three-quarters within 45 minutes. This reaction can occur the first time you are stung or with a subsequent sting.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction tend to appear within 30 minutes after a sting and include hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site; swollen eyes and eyelids; wheezing; tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing; hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue; dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure; shock; and unconsciousness or cardiac arrest.
Take these steps to avoid the perils of bees, wasps, and other buzzing bugs, especially if you work outdoors:
- Stay away from areas where insects are gathered, especially in and around garbage cans, dumpsters, fallen fruit, pet food, and other sources of food residue.
- Don't provoke or swat at insects, or make sudden movements. Let them fly away, slowly walk away, or gently "blow" away the insect.
- Be alert when using power tools such as lawnmowers, weed eaters, and chainsaws that can stir up the insects.
- Tell your employers about your allergies to insect stings, especially if you work outdoors. Co-workers should be trained in emergency first aid, be aware of the signs of a severe reaction, and know how to use the bee sting kit (self-injectable epinephrine).
- Always carry your self-injectable epinephrine and a cell phone with you in case you need emergency medical help.
- Reduce your chance of being stung by wearing light-coloured clothes such as khaki, beige or blue, and long sleeved shirts and long pants, and close-toed footwear. Avoid wearing scented, perfumed products, and make sure the insects can't hide or get tangled in your hair, or in the folds of clothing and towels.
- If you must be near bees or wasps, wear a hat with netting to cover your head, neck and shoulders, and tape your pant legs to your boots and socks, and your sleeves to your gloves.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet if you are allergic to stings.
Summertime comes with some serious but preventable health risks. By taking some basic precautions, you can enjoy a safe, healthy summer.
For more information, read the OSH Answers fact sheets:
Get the Working in Hot Environments: Health & Safety Guide
Listen to the CCOHS podcast: Working in the Heat: How Hot is Too Hot?
Mental health problems and illnesses are a leading cause of workplace disability in Canada and take a heavy toll on Canadian workers and workplaces. Soon Canadian employers will have more support and the tools they need to improve mental health among their employees with a national psychological health and safety standard.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is heading up the development of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace ("the Standard"), in collaboration with the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) and CSA Standards. BNQ and CSA Standards have created a committee to develop the Standard consisting of health and safety professionals, labour representatives, executives, government representatives, experts in law and policy and other groups. The goal is to make the Standard user-friendly and easily accessible to Canadian employers and other interested parties.
The Standard will be developed as a voluntary 'stand-alone' National Standard of Canada (NSC) and is expected to be a win/win scenario for both employees and employers. It will provide a methodology that will lead to measurable improvements in psychological health and safety for working Canadians. Employees will benefit from workplaces that promote and protect their mental health and employers will realize enhanced cost effectiveness, improved risk management, increased organizational recruitment and retention as well as corporate social responsibility.
The project is being funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Bell.
There will be a 60-day public review process held in the fall, with the completed Standard scheduled to be released in 2012.
Read the MHCC press release, (PDF)
Health and Safety To Go
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips and insights into the health, safety and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience...or on the go!
This month's edition of Health and Safety To Go! features podcasts on the challenges of an aging workforce and summer water safety.
Challenges of an Aging Workforce examines the health and safety challenges of aging workers and what employers can do to accommodate the needs of all workers. The podcast runs 3:21 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
In this month's face to face episode, Shelley Dalke from the Canadian Red Cross outlines how you can stay safe while working and vacationing on the water this summer. The podcast runs 5:27 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
With the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) on the horizon, suppliers are getting ready to transition from an ANSI MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) format to the GHS SDS (Safety Data Sheet) format. This transition will not be as simple as dropping the "M".
To help you prepare for these changes, CCOHS has produced a reference poster, MSDS -> SDS: Not Just Dropping the "M", that provides a visual overview of what an MSDS will look like after its transition to a GHS SDS. The poster is designed as a reference tool to help educate, train, and inform chemical manufacturers and suppliers, and employers and employees of industries where chemical products are used.
CCOHS has evaluated how the ANSI Z400.1-2004 MSDS data fields can be transitioned into an SDS, considering: what's in, what's out, what's new, what's moving, what is being renamed, and what is staying the same. This poster will help you prepare for these changes by graphically presenting the results of this analysis, and highlighting some key tips about how to successfully manage your transition from MSDS to SDS.
The information provided in this poster should not be regarded as final or unchangeable, since the final regulatory changes are not yet known.
Find out more about the CCOHS poster, MSDS -> SDS: Not Just Dropping the "M"
Download the ON TOPIC brochure: WHMIS After GHS (PDF)
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2015, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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