Many people enjoy
working outdoors. They like the
fresh air and sun and the satisfaction of seeing the results of landscaping and
maintenance tasks. Outdoor jobs may free you from some of the health and safety
concerns that apply inside a facility Ė but they have their own special risks.
In this news-letter weíll review some of the hazards you might face
when you work outside, both on the job and at home, and what you can do to
protect yourself from them.
There are a number
of general hazards that could affect your work outdoors.
Among them are the following:
to plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
bites or stings.
or other animal bites.
to heat or cold.
to pesticides and herbicides.
from equipment used outdoors.
Letís look in
more detail at how we can spot possible hazards when we work outdoors.
After all, you have to know thereís a hazard before you can take steps
to protect yourself.
One of the most
common health risks outdoors is contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison
sumac. Many people get an itchy
rash if they touch these plants or the clothes or tools that contacted the
plants. The rash may swell, get bumpy and blister and possibly ooze or scab.
Some people donít react badly to the first contact but become
sensitized and have more serious reactions later. What weíre reacting to in
these plants is their sticky sap, which remains a hazard even when the plants
are dead or dying. These plants are
pretty common, and itís important to know what they look like so you can steer
clear of them. Keep this warning in mind: Leaves of threeólet them be.
Poison ivy, which
may appear to be a plant or a vine, has glossy green leaves.
Poison oak looks a lot like poison ivy.
Poison sumac is different. Itís
often found in swampy areas and has oval leaves and drooping green or white
berries. There are other nonpoisonous sumacs that have red berries.
Donít touch these plants! If
you do accidentally make con-tact, donít touch other parts of your body with
your hands or with clothes or equipment that have touched the plant.
Weíll talk later about what to do to prevent or limit reactions when
you do make contact.
have to be poisonous to cause allergic reactions.
Some people are sensitive to contact with other plants such as vegetables
or flowers. Many people suffer from
hay feveróthe pollen from grass, ragweed, and other outdoor plants makes them
sneeze and itch. If you think you
may have this type of allergy, see a doctor.
There are medications that can prevent or relieve allergic reactions.
Even if you donít think youíve had contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, wash thoroughly when you finish an outdoor job. Itís easy not to notice when you, or your tools or clothes, made contact with a plant. If you know you had contact, wash as quickly as possible with soap and water. Wash thoroughly and then cleanse the area with rubbing alcohol.
If you get an
itchy rash, you may get relief from aspirin, hydrocortisone cream, or calamine
lotion. Calamine lotion may spread
the problem, how-ever. Sometimes
antihistamines may give relief, though they can make you drowsy.
Try not to scratch; that just slows the healing.
If the itching gets really bad or thereís serious swelling, see a
Insect Bites and Stings
outdoors, thereís always the possibility of a close encounter with a wasp,
bee, or other insect that stings or bites.
You may not feel a sting or bite when it happens, but youíll probably
soon notice swelling, redness, itching, or even pain.
Some people have to worry about much more than that though.
If youíre allergic to bites or stings, they can cause hives, dizziness,
stomach cramps, and nausea. In rare
cases, people feel weak or have trouble breathing or swallowing.
In the worst instances, they can lead to unconsciousness and even shock
or death. There are other insects
like black flies and tiny red chiggers whose bites cause serious itching.
They rarely lead to worse problems.
Spider bites are
generally harmless. The black widow
spider is an exception. This
poisonous spider is glossy black with a red hourglass mark on the stomach.
Itís small, with a body just one-half inch in diameter, and lives in
wood-piles, sheds, and basements. The
bite itself may not hurt, but it can cause bad stomach pain and cramps,
breathing difficulty, and possibly nausea.
Also, watch for sweating, twitching, shaking, and tingling in the hand.
See a doctor immediately for black widow spider bites.
Be alert for brown
recluse spiders. Theyíre a little
smaller than black widows and have a white pattern that looks like a violin on
their backs. Their bites can be
painful and cause some of the same reactions as black widows, but theyíre not
Ticks bites are a
particular concern. Ticks are tiny
arachnids that live in tall grass or shrubs and often ďrideĒ on deer, dogs,
mice, or people. They donít fly
or jump but can easily attach themselves to your clothes.
Theyíre so small you may not even notice them or realize youíve been
bitten. Some ticks carry serious ill-nesses such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
and Lyme disease. Itís important
to identify and treat these illnesses early.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be deadly.
So you want to do everything possible to pre-vent tick bites and to act
quickly if you are bitten.
Most insect bites
and stings are just uncomfortable. Apply
ice to relieve the swelling and use calamine lotion, hydro-cortisone cream, or a
paste made of baking soda to relieve the itching.
If youíre allergic to insect stings, try to remove the stinger as
quickly as possible with your fingernail. If
thereís any sign of an allergic reaction, such as spreading hives, dizziness,
or nausea, get medical attention. Immediate
medical attention is essential for a black widow spider bite or multiple
stingsófor example, an attack by a swarm of bees.
Also get professional help if you have trouble breathing or swallowing
after a bite or sting. In these
cases, donít stop to decide if this is serious.
If itís one of the rare life-threatening situations related to insect
bites or stings, thereís no time to lose.
Deal with tick
bites immediately to reduce the risk of Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever. Check your-self and your clothing for ticks when you finish an outdoor
job. If a tick is in your skin, remove it quickly.
Grab the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, getting as close to the skin as
possible. Then pull it straight up
with steady even pressure so you get all its body parts.
If you canít remove the tick yourself, get medical help to do so.
Once itís out, wash the area gently with water and apply rubbing
alcohol as a disinfectant.
See a doctor
immediately if you develop swelling, fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms
within a few weeks. Physicians can
treat Lyme disease and Spotted Fever effectively with antibiotics.
However, fast treatment is essential to prevent very serious illness.
Snake or Other Animal Bites
Snake and other
animal bites are rarely a problem for people who work outdoors. Snakes and
animals are usually as anxious to avoid you as you are to avoid them.
If you see a creature, keep your distance. Be especial-ly cautious with
an animal thatís eating or mating or one that appears to be sick or injured.
Also beware of an animal that seems too friendly or that seems to
be acting ďdrunk.Ē Those
behaviors could be signs of rabies.
If a dog or other
animal approaches you in a threatening manner, donít panic.
Stand still or back away slowly and talk in a calm tone.
If youíre holding any food, drop it.
If you think the animal seems ready to bite, wrap your lower arm in a
jacket or other available material and hold it out in front of you to take the
bite. Always get medical attention
for snake or animal bites. Donít risk even the slim chance of serious problems.
If there is any sign that a biting animal might have rabies, the
authorities will want to capture that animal for clinical evaluation and
going to work outside in hot weather, try to build up your tolerance slowly. Be especially careful if youíre overweight or have high
blood pressure, as heat may affect you more than others.
Keep an eye on your co-workersí symptoms, as well as your own.
Some-times people may not realize theyíre in trouble or may not be able
to do anything about it.
If the heat makes
you feel tired and weak, take a break. You
could be having the first symptoms of heat stress. If the problem is heat
cramps, rest and place wet towels firmly on the cramping muscles.
Slowly drink water. Heat
exhaustion is more serious. Get to
a cool place immediately if you experience weakness, sweating, dizziness,
headache, and a pale or flushed appearance.
Loosen your clothing and drink water slowly. Apply cool com-presses to
the body and elevate the feet 8 to 12 inches.
If a fan is available, turn it on.
Heat stroke is the
most dangerous type of heat stress. The
body stops sweating and canít cool itself, so body temperature rises quickly.
Call immediately for medical attention for symptoms like chills,
confusion, fatigue, dry, hot, reddish skin, nausea, cramps, and weakness.
While waiting for help, keep the victim in a cool location and, if
possible, cool the person down by applying water to the body.
Drink water, but donít try to give water to an unconscious person.
weather outside is now warm, there are working conditions that can cause cold
exposure to occur. Cold expo-sure
also demands a prompt response. If
a body feels very cold and numb or if you notice someoneís skin has become
pale and glossy, take action to prevent frostbite.
Cover the frozen part immediately. The
victim may need help to get to a warm spot. Provide a warm drink and wrap the
frozen part gently in blankets. If
possible, rewarm it in warmónot hotówater.
Donít rub the frozen part, apply heat, or break blisters.
Donít walk on frostbitten feet until theyíre warm.
A frostbite victim should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Take care while moving the person to elevate the affected body parts and
cover them carefully with clean cloths.
Pesticides and Herbicides
pesticides and herbicides can cause immediate reactions such as skin rashes,
headaches, and nausea. Some may
also cause serious long-term illnesses. So
you want to do everything possible to pre-vent overexposure.
Check the labels on containers to be sure youíre using any personal
protective equipment thatís required. If
a sign tells you an area has been treated with a pesticide or herbicide in the
last 12 to 48 hours, take extra pre-cautions.
Like other hazardous substances, pesticide and herbicide exposure can be
a result of inhalation, ingestion, or skin and eye contact.
Donít waste any time if this happens.
Check labels and/or material safety data sheets for first-aid
information. Most exposures will
call for immediate medical attention. While
waiting for help, get an inhalation victim into fresh air and administer
artificial respiration or CPR if necessary.
If there has been skin or eye contact, flush with water for at least 15
Any tool or piece
of machinery can be hazardous if you donít know how to use it safely.
Fortunately, most equipment is designed to make it relatively easy to be safe. The manufacturers provide information on possible hazards and
instructions on how to use the equipment safely. Most equipment has some type of guard to prevent your direct
contact with sharp or moving parts. Keep
these guards in place, since they are one of your most important protections.
You often need to
use person-al protective clothing and equipment to stay safe around machinery. One of the most important protections is to wear safety
glasses or goggles, which will prevent eye injuries from flying objects or
particles. Wear sturdy shoes with nonslip soles. Clothes shouldnít be too
loose because you risk getting them caught in moving parts.
When using a power
mower, look at the area to be mowed before you start.
Clear any rocks or debris out of the way.
If you hit them, they could either damage the machine or fly up and hit
you. Remember, too, that a
gasoline-powered machine is a fire risk. Donít
smoke around a mower or around gasoline supplies or expose the gasoline to any
other heat source. Injuries can
occur during maintenance as well as operation.
Before making adjustments or performing maintenance tasks, be sure the
mower is off and that all moving parts have stopped.
Take special care when you adjust the blades or remove grass clippings.
Wear gloves and donít touch the sharp blades.
Itís best to refuel or start all mowers and tractors outside to avoid
carbon monoxide gases. Refuel only
when the machine is turned off and the engine is cool.
injured while working with mowers or other equipment, keep these first-aid
responses in mind.
If an object gets
into the eye, get medical help. The
object must be removed with extreme care so it wonít cause greateróeven
cuts, small puncture wounds, and other minor injuries with soap and water or
hydrogen peroxide. Be sure you
get any dirt or other materials out. Cover
small cuts with a bandage; soak punctures in warm water several times a day
to prevent infection.
See a doctor for
larger wounds or wounds that donít seem to heal quickly.
You may need stitches or treatment for an infection.
an amputated body part in a plastic bag with ice and rush it to the hospital
with the victim.
bleeding, place a clean clothóor your hand, if necessaryóon the wound
and push it to stop bleeding. A deeper cut may require that same direct
pressure plus elevating the wounded body part. For severe bleeding, get medical help.
No part of life is totally hazard-free, and outdoor work is no exception. You can, however, generally avoid injuries and illness if you quickly identify the potential hazards and take sensible pre-cautions such as using personal protective clothing and equipment.