Oregon OSHA Construction Depot Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

June 2017

Heads up: Summer's coming

sun shining 

Summer officially begins on Tuesday, June 20, at 9:24 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time), which means the weather could be getting warmer. The official three-month outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center says the chances of above normal temperatures are "slightly enhanced" for much of the Pacific Northwest, but "moderated by recent positive snow and soil moisture anomalies." On the other hand, meteorologists at the Oregon Department of Agriculture are predicting below average temperatures and an unlikely threat of major heat waves or prolonged periods of hot weather.

Regardless of how this summer's weather plays out, be prepared for summer's common outdoor hazards. Here are five tips to help keep summertime safer.

Be cool under heat

Typically, July and August are the months when outdoor workers are most at risk for heat illness. But heat illness can be a serious threat any time workers are not prepared for hot weather, and the risk increases when the weather is hot and humid. Labor-intensive construction activities such as roofing and paving can easily raise the body temperature of workers who are unprepared for hot weather.

Heat illness 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.

Recommended: The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool

Don't blister in the 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:

  • Wear sunglasses that have 99 percent to 100 percent UV protection; inexpensive sunglasses that provide 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection are as effective as expensive ones.
  • Use a full spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen. If you are fair-skinned, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 20. Apply it generously.
  • Check the sunscreen's expiration date. Shelf life is one to three years depending where it is stored. Avoid storing sunscreen where extreme temperatures will shorten its shelf life.
  • Cover up. The best protection is a wide-brimmed hat and loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that you can't see through.
  • Limit your exposure. UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Respect lightning

July is the peak month for lightning-related injuries and fatalities across the U.S. Although the lifetime odds of being struck by lightning are slim – about 1 in 12,000 – the odds increase if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. On average, 49 people are killed and hundreds more are injured in the United States each year by lightning.

The best way to stay safe is to watch the sky for a developing storm, listen for thunder – any thunder you hear is caused by lightning – and then go to a safe place. The safest places are fully enclosed buildings with electrical wiring and plumbing. Stay there for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. Hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled up windows are a second-best alternative. Follow the 30-minute rule before leaving the vehicle. Remember that lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles away from a storm.

It's a common misconception that a person needs to be struck directly to be injured by lightning. Fewer than 5 percent of injuries are caused by direct strikes. More than half of lightning-related injuries result from ground strikes – when lightning strikes and spreads through the ground, eventually reaching a victim.

If you happen to be struck by lightning and survive, be sure to tell the ER doctors that it was lightning that struck you and not an industrial shock because there are differences:

  • The contact voltage of a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts, while a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts.
  • Industrial shocks typically last no longer than half a second, while lightning strikes last only a few milliseconds.
  • Most of the current from a lightning strike passes over the surface of the body in a process called external flashover.
  • Both industrial shocks and lightning strikes result in deep burns at the point of contact, but for industrial shocks, the points of contact are usually on the upper limbs, hands, and wrists, while for lightning, they are mostly on the head, neck, and shoulders.
  • Industrial shock victims sometimes exhibit deep tissue destruction along the entire current path, while lightning victims' burns generally center at the entry and exit points.

Recommended: Lightning Safety When Working Outdoors (OSHA Fact Sheet).

Look, but you better not touch: Poison oak and poison ivy

Poison oak is common in western Oregon and its near relative, poison ivy, crops up in eastern Oregon. The plants are so similar in appearance, growth, and effects on humans that the names are often interchanged.

The plants can be shrubs from three to 10 feet high or a woody vine that clings to trees and other shrubs. The leaves generally grow in groups of three on a common stem.

What makes both plants irksome is the poisonous, oily irritant urushiol. When exposed to 50 micrograms of urushiol, an amount that is less than one grain of table salt, 80 percent to 90 percent of adults will develop a rash.

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. If you've been a victim of poison oak, you know the outcome: 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 or poison ivy; burning transports the oil on smoke particles, which cause severe reparatory irritation.

Keep your distance: 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.