Staying hydrated, getting sufficient rest, and staying alert for symptoms of heat illnesses are essential for workers who are exposed to excessive heat.

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Are You Ready for Those Pesky Summer Hazards?

Driving, working outside, and even petting animals at county fairs can be dangerous activities during the summer months.

Heat and bugs are two of the best-known hazards to which outdoor workers and the public may be exposed during the summer, but they aren't the only health and safety threats that become more serious during the season.

The USDA reminds us that foodborne illnesses rise during the summer months for two main reasons: bacteria multiply faster when it's warm, and people are cooking outside more frequently, meaning they are "away from refrigerators, thermometers, and washing facilities of a kitchen," according to information posted at www.foodsafety.gov. These USDA pages offer tips for cooking out and handling food safely while on the road, including four short podcasts covering these topics.

While some of the fried foods at county or state fairs might also pose a problem to the diner's digestion, a bigger threat is infectious diseases associated with animals at these and other public gatherings. CDC's MMWR published a report in May 2011 from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. about these. It said from 1996 through 2010, approximately 150 human infectious disease outbreaks involving animals in public settings –- including petting zoos, pet stores, animal swap meets, circuses, carnivals, educational farms, and county or state fairs -- were reported to CDC.

Washing hands is the most important prevention step to reduce the disease risk associated with animals in public settings, according to the report.

Other summer hazards to keep your eye on include these:

Heat illnesses. OSHA and Cal/OSHA have begun their 2012 outreach and training programs targeting heat illnesses. Staying hydrated, getting sufficient rest, and staying alert for symptoms of heat illnesses are essential for workers who are exposed to excessive heat.

AIHA recommends following EPA's sun safety tips, as well: Wear SPF 15+ sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses; seek shade during the sun's peak hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; and check the UV Index so you'll know the times of day when the risk of overexposure to the sun is highest.

Driving hazards. Road construction and related congestion usually increase during the summer months. Highway construction requires work zones; Associated General Contractors of America released the results of its 2012 Work Zone Awards Survey on April 23, and the results were alarming:

  • 84 percent of the respondents said motor vehicle crashes in their highway work zones are a bigger problem today than they were more than a decade ago
  • 72 percent said such crashes are a very serious problem when compared with other potential work zone safety hazards
  • 68 percent said during the past 12 months, at least one crash involving a moving motor vehicle had occurred in a highway work zone their companies operated, and among these respondents, 32 percent said this happened five or more times during the year
  • While 69 percent said no workers were hurt in those crashes, drivers or passengers frequently were injured

The Retread Tire Association's managing director, Harvey Brodsky, recently offered advice for ameliorating the wear and tear on motor vehicle tires that is often amplified by hot summer driving. "Studies have shown that excessive heat is among the common causes of tire failure, causing up to 30 percent of failures," Brodsky said. "With summer air temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees in some locations and additional heat from road friction and braking, it's no wonder that even well-maintained tires can be stressed. But there are precautions that you can take to minimize any potential hazards."

He advised checking tires' air pressure regularly. Lower tire pressure will generate more heat and more irregular wear on tires. An increase in heat subsequently will cause an increase in tire air pressure. But do not release air from a hot tire to compensate for this; the air pressure inside falls when the tire cools, and the result is an under-inflated tire.

Additional suggestions:

  • Always use valve caps. Road grime and debris will quickly compromise a valve stem; keep them covered for best results.
  • Make sure your fleet is monitored with a regular tire maintenance and repair program at least weekly.

Ticks and mosquitoes. Most West Nile Virus infections occur between July and September, according to CDC. OSHA offers a useful bulletin about WNV, including administrative controls, training, and PPE guidance for outdoor workers who could be exposed.

AIHA notes that it is wise to use repellents containing EPA-registered ingredients. For information about safely applying insect repellents, visit this CDC page.

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