Protecting Outdoor Workers

Summer’s here, and many Ontarians are welcoming the warmer days.

But working outdoors can present many hazards such as heat stress, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and common hazardous plants in Ontario.

Heat stress

Working where it is hot puts stress on your body’s cooling system. Heat, especially when combined with other stresses such as hard physical work, fluid loss, fatigue or some medical conditions, could lead to serious consequences for workers.

Employers must take steps to protect their employees from the effects of this hazard. There are many things employers can do to protect workers from heat stress, including:

  • reducing the temperature and humidity through air cooling
  • providing air-conditioned rest areas
  • increasing the frequency and length of rest breaks
  • scheduling strenuous jobs for cooler times of the day
  • providing cool drinking water near workers

Learn more about how to protect workers from heat stress.

Tick bites and Lyme disease

Blacklegged ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are in Ontario. Workers who work in certain outdoor areas are at risk for tick bites and developing Lyme disease, and should protect themselves.

Those at risk include outdoor workers, especially those in southern Ontario who may work in wooded, bushy areas or in tall grasses.

So what must employers do to protect workers?

  • Determine if workers may be at risk of getting tick bites and developing Lyme disease.
  • Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers from Lyme disease as required.
  • Provide workers with information, instruction and supervision to protect the health or safety of the worker as required. Ensure workers are aware of the risk and know how to identify the presence of ticks, how to prevent or minimize exposure, and how to treat a tick bite that has occurred.
  • Make sure supervisors know what is required to protect workers from Lyme disease as required.
  • Ensure that appropriate personal protective clothing as required is provided.
  • When made aware that a worker has developed Lyme disease from exposure at work, report to the Ministry of Labour as an occupational illness as required.

Learn more about how to protect your workers from Lyme disease.

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

The warmer temperatures also bring out the mosquitoes. The chance of being bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile virus is very small. Person-to-person contact does not spread the virus. It cannot be spread directly from a bird to a human.

However, as a safety precaution, it is still important to minimize exposure to mosquitoes in areas where West Nile virus has been documented.

Some of the precautions that workers can consider for the protection are:

  • Wear protective clothing. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker, more intense colours. Subject to other safety requirements, select light-coloured clothing, including long-sleeved shirts or jackets, and long pants. Tuck pants into socks for extra protection.
  • Reduce your exposure by eliminating likely breeding sites at your workplace. Where possible, eliminate standing water in yards, grounds, parking lots, ditches and flat roofs on a regular basis (or at least once a week). For example, clean up and empty any local containers of standing water such as old tires, barrels, cans or any items of any kind that could hold standing water for any period of time outdoors.
  • Take particular care at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET or another federally approved personal insect repellent according to the directions on the label, before outdoor activities. The amount of DEET in the insect repellent should be no greater than 30 per cent for adults.
  • If you are unable to use DEET products, you may wish to use one of the other federally approved insect repellents.

Learn more about how you can protect your workers from the West Nile Virus.

Hazardous plants

Hazardous plants that can cause painful skin reactions from inadvertent exposure by skin contact can be found throughout Ontario.

Many people are familiar with poison ivy, but may not be aware of some of the more toxic plants, including giant hogweed and wild parsnip. These particular plants can cause serious skin reactions and result in long-lasting scars. Other hazardous plants include poison sumac and stinging nettle.

Those who work in certain outdoor areas where these hazardous plants are grown are at risk of exposure, and should become familiar with these plants to protect themselves. Workers who may be exposed include construction workers, road crews, emergency response workers, forestry workers, loggers, farmers, camp counsellors, among others.

Other hazardous plants include poison ivy, poison sumac and stinging nettle.

Some tips to protect yourself from such plants include:

  • Become familiar with the above hazardous plants in order to identify them by sight.
  • Never touch or brush up against any of these plants with bare skin.
  • If you must work near the plant, cover your body using impermeable coveralls and boots, rubber gloves, and use a face shield to protect your eyes and face from contact with the plant. Use of impermeable protective clothing increases the risk of heat stress so appropriate precautions should be taken to prevent heat stress.
  • Thoroughly wash your boots and rubber gloves first with soap, water and a scrub brush before taking off your protective clothing.
  • Remove clothing carefully to avoid contact with sap that may be on your clothing.
  • Wash rubber gloves again before removing them.
  • Lastly remove protective eyewear if wearing them.
  • Put non-disposable clothing in the laundry and wash yourself with soap and water.
  • Wash all equipment that has touched the plant, sap or oil.

To learn more about how to protect workers from such hazards, how to identify these plants, and what to do if you are exposed to them, read the ministry’s “Protecting Workers from Hazardous Plants” information sheet.