With the start of summer heat comes a renewed focus on Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) programs in workplaces with June kicking off the National Safety Council’s National Safety Month. There’s no better time to focus on summer safety topics for the workplace with hazards like unpredictable weather, heat stress, and biological hazards with different bugs and critters coming out. Read on to keep your teams safe this summer.

We’ve outlined some of the top concerns to put your feet to the fire on safety awareness —from hazardous or poisonous bugs and reptiles to signs of heat exhaustion, and more—as well as tips and tricks for getting everyone at your company reinvigorated around EHS topics this summer.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Summer can feel like a carefree vacation after a tumultuous spring or long winter. But summer can bring many environmental dangers, and workplaces need to be prepared for all sorts of weather and environmental events, including heavy rain, high winds, flooding, and tornados. Being mindful of the changing weather conditions and encouraging your employees to research the weather before they head into the outdoors is a must.

“The peak ‘tornado season’ for the southern Plains (e.g., Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas) is from May into early June. On the Gulf coast, it is early in the spring. In the northern Plains and upper Midwest (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota), tornado season is in June or July. But remember, tornadoes can happen at any time of year. Tornadoes can also happen at any time of day or night, but most tornadoes occur between 4–9 pm” according to NOAA the national severe storms laboratory.

Ensure your workforce understands emergency weather procedures, where to shelter in place and how to communicate between team members. Do they know the difference between a tornado watch (this can be issued over large swaths of regions or states as a precautionary state), and a tornado warning (this means ACT NOW and take shelter, a tornado has been spotted by radar or people on the ground!)?

Other natural disasters or severe weather to watch for are flash floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes near the end of summer in the south. Some of these can be more unpredictable whereas others have advanced warning time. Your teams should be prepared for any severe weather or natural disaster event in the regions they are working in and understand the dangers and how to protect themselves and their teams.

It’s important to stress the adage of “better safe than sorry” and double-check that every employee is prepared for the changing weather. One great way to do this is to discuss the week’s forecast before it happens and let employees know they can take extra time to ensure their own safety while driving or doing other outdoor activities, as well as emphasizing the importance of having the right outerwear, gloves, footwear, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job.

Read Personal Protective Equipment: A Primer to stay current on all things PPE.

Riding the Heat Wave

In every region, summer brings on the heat. Heat waves and extreme temperatures can occur throughout the summer months creating dangerous work situations. Most of the time this occurs on job sites outdoors, but your workforce should also be aware that there are possible indoor situations that can lead to heat stress if there is no air conditioning, if there are cramped or small spaces, or for lone workers who can be especially vulnerable with no one on-site to watch out for them.

Signs of heat stress or heat exhaustion include:

  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Headache
  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale skin
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Confusion

In hot, humid working conditions, a worker’s body temperature can quickly elevate to up to 106 degrees or higher within minutes. If not treated, heat stress can lead to heat stroke, with loss of consciousness, seizures, and possibly death. Train your team to watch for the initial symptoms of heat-related illnesses, act early by removing any tight clothing and applying cooling measures such as cold water/towels and fans and call 911 for emergency situations.

To minimize or prevent heat stress risks this summer, follow some of our quick tips below:

  • Download the Heat Index safety app from OSHA
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30+ every two hours
  • Take breaks in the shade
  • Drink plenty of water or sports drinks with electrolytes
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol (you can lose more fluids from these)
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
  • Be aware of signs of heat stress and be proactive

Creepy Crawlies and Your Workforce

There’s just no way around it – summer brings out the creepy crawlies. Make sure your workforce knows about the local dangers including environmental factors like bugs, reptiles or even larger predators like cougars. If you have employees that travel or go out into the field outdoors, they may not be familiar with local dangers. Make it easily available for all team members to have access to a local guide on risk factors, including global risks.

Here is a small sampling of what our own teams have encountered over the years:

  • Ticks (Lyme disease, infected bite locations)
  • Stray dogs or rabid animals
  • Bears and other predator wildlife
  • Bees, wasps and murder hornets
  • Poisonous spiders (black widow, brown recluse)
  • Poisonous snakes (rattlesnakes, cottonmouth, copperhead)
  • Poisonous plants (poison ivy, oak, sumac, wild parsnip)
  • Other bugs such as chiggers, fire ants, scorpions, mosquitos

Who’s ready to go into the great outdoors this summer after this list?

Summer Slide

One more EHS factor that may be often overlooked is the mental focus in the summer and its potential effect on safety and performance in the workplace. This time it’s not driven by poor mental health, which can manifest in the winter, but in fact, the opposite – employees are excited about summer vacations, longer daylight hours, nice weather, and holidays like the 4th of July.

This “summer slide” mindset can cause less focus on day-to-day tasks. It’s a good idea to check in on safety and ensure employees are in a present mindset, especially when performing tasks that require full attention. It’s no coincidence that there are more driving accidents in the summer than in other seasons according to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), with more cars on the road for summer road trips.

Fresh Perspective

While we understand that not everyone has the budget to rejuvenate EHS the way they wish they could (beach-front parties, anyone?), we do have a few thrifty tips for bringing EHS front and center.

First, start by reconnecting with your marketing team—they have the expertise to help you start (or restart) new internal campaigns around EHS, sponsor an upcoming meeting, and get your message heard. Another great way to bring EHS to the forefront is by holding on-site activities that involve education and interactivity. Anything from an EHS fair supported by internal departments to a full-blown EHS Awareness Day can boost morale, especially if you provide snacks for your attendees. You can also connect in with industry groups to get tips and learnings from other organizations on how they prioritize EHS (check out our own consortiums here organized around retail, tech, the beverage industry and healthcare!)

Hello, Summer

Summer brings on the heat with many opportunities to drive EHS renewal at your organization. We hope our highlights of summer hazards and EHS program refresh tips give you plenty of inspiration to keep making your workplace great this summer and beyond.

Need help improving your EHS culture? Learn more about our health and safety consulting services.

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