Last week, we looked at how the physical hazard of summertime heat can pose a threat to workers, and we listed some steps that employers and employees can take to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. Now let’s take a look at some biological hazards workers may encounter during warmer months, or in warmer geographic locations, and what can be done to prevent illness and injury from these hazards.
Summertime Biological Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines biological hazards as hazards “associated with working with animals, people, or infectious plant materials.” Biological hazards include bloodborne pathogen exposures from blood and bodily fluids; fungi and mold; bacteria and viruses; animal and bird droppings; insect bites; and poisonous plants.
Insects breed during warmer months, which can lead to an increase in insects and insect bites. Mosquito and tick bites can result in medical conditions such as West Nile Virus or Lyme disease. Workers at risk include outdoor workers but also those traveling to areas with increased populations of mosquitos or ticks. Outdoor workers and travelers should also be mindful of spiders (e.g., black widow and brown recluse), snakes, scorpions, and stinging insects (e.g., bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants).
Risk mitigation tips include:
- Reducing standing water at worksites because mosquitos lay eggs in/near standing water. Removing debris from ditches and removing items outside that could store/collect water (e.g., tires, buckets, equipment) can help with this process.
- Encouraging the use of insect repellent; providing EPA-registered insect repellent.
- Encouraging covering exposed areas of skin. Light-colored long-sleeved shirts, long pants (preferably denim), socks, and hats, if possible, are recommended. Wearing leather gloves when handling brush or materials where insects or snakes could be hiding.
- Avoiding tall grass, piles of leaves; avoiding climbing on rocks and woodpiles.
- Treating clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin; permethrin kills ticks on contact.
- Performing daily skin checks after working outdoors. Removing ticks within 24 hours reduces the risk of Lyme disease.
- Providing training about insect bites and stings, including risks of exposure and infection; identification of venomous snakes; snake bite prevention.
With warmer weather also comes the threat of exposure to poisonous plants (e.g., poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac) resulting in allergic reactions. Even if a poisonous plant does not come directly in contact with your skin, the residue oil from these plants on clothes or tools can transfer to your skin and cause rashes, itching, swelling, red bumps, and blisters. Additionally, when certain plants are burned, they can release toxins that when inhaled by workers could cause rashes or lung irritation.
Risk mitigation tips include:
- Wearing long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves when working with brush and foliage.
- Washing exposed clothing separately from other clothes with hot water and detergent.
- Cleaning exposed tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Wearing a NIOSH-certified half-face piece particulate respirator if being around burning poisonous plants is unavoidable.
Biological Hazard Resources:
- NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Stinging Insects
- NIOSH Fast Facts: Protect Yourself from Ticks and Mosquitoes
- OSHA Fact Sheet: Brown Recluse Spider
- OSHA Fact Sheet: Black Widow Spider
- NC State Extension: Snakes
- NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hazard handout, https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/2018-11/fy10_sh-20839-10_circle_chart.pdf
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Insects and Scorpions,” May 31, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/insects/default.html
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Mosquito-Borne Diseases,” March 21, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/outdoor/mosquito-borne/default.html
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Poisonous Plants,” August 7, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/default.html
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Tick-Borne Diseases,” September 22, 2011, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/tick-borne/default.html
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Venomous Spiders,” May 31, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/spiders/default.html
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Venomous Snakes,” May 31, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/default.html