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HAZARDS TO OUTDOOR WORKERS

Construction workers drinking water  Man Sneezing into tissue Photographs courtesy of Keith Weller, USDA/ARS

Overview

Outdoor workers are exposed to many types of hazards that depend on their type of work, geographic region, season, and duration of time they are outside. Industry sectors with outdoor workers include the agriculture, forestry, fishing, construction, mining, transportation, warehousing, utilities, and service sectors. Outdoor workers include farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers, gardeners, painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, laborers, mechanics, and any other worker who spends time outside. Employers should train outdoor workers about their workplace hazards, including hazard identification and recommendations for preventing and controlling their exposures.

Physical hazards to outdoor workers may include extreme heat, extreme cold, noise, lightning, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Extreme heat conditions can cause heat stroke, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, and other problems. Extreme cold conditions can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and other problems. Too much noise exposure may cause a temporary change in hearing or a temporary ringing in workers' ears (tinnitus). Repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent, incurable hearing loss or tinnitus. Lightning kills about 80 people in the United States each year and injures hundreds. Among construction workers, laborers, machine operators, engineers, roofers, and pipefitters have been struck by lightning most often on the job. UV radiation can cause problems such as sunburn and skin cancer.

Biological hazards include vector-borne diseases, venomous wildlife and insects, and poisonous plants. Vector-borne diseases may be spread to workers by insects, such as mosquitoes, or ticks. When a mosquito or tick bites a worker, it may transfer a disease-causing agent, such as a parasite, bacterium, or virus. Mosquito-borne diseases include West Nile Virus , St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, and LaCrosse encephalitis. Tick-borne diseases include Lyme Disease , babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, anaplasmosis, Colorado tick fever, Powassan encephalitis, and Q fever.

Outdoor workers in the United States may be exposed to many types of venomous wildlife and insects. Venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and stinging insects can be found throughout various geographic regions. They are especially dangerous to workers who have allergies to the animal. Anaphylactic shock is the body’s severe allergic reaction to a bite or sting and requires immediate emergency care. Thousands of people are stung each year, and as many as 40–50 people in the United States die each year from severe allergic reactions. Venomous U.S. snakes include rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins, and coral snakes. Stinging insects include bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants. Venomous spiders include black widows, brown recluse spiders, and hobo spiders.

Poisonous plants found in the United States include poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These plants can cause allergic reactions if the leaves or stalks are damaged and come in contact with workers’ skin. These plants can also be dangerous if they are burned and their toxins are inhaled by workers. Nearly one-third of forestry workers and firefighters who battle forest fires in California, Oregon, and Washington develop rashes or lung irritations from contact with poison oak, which is the most common poisonous plant in those states.

Outdoor workers may encounter other hazards in addition to the physical and biological hazards described here. They may be exposed to pesticides or other chemical hazards, traumatic injury hazards, or other safety and health hazards depending on their specific job and tasks. Employers should train outdoor workers about their workplace hazards, including hazard identification and recommendations for preventing and controlling their exposures.

Physical Hazards

Extreme Cold

NIOSH Cold Stress

OSHA Offers Tips to Protect Workers in Cold Environments

OSHA Sawmill eTool: Cold Stresses

CDC Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety

CDC eLCOSH: Cold Stress

Extreme Heat

NIOSH Heat Stress

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and Health Topics: Heat Stress

OSHA Sawmills eTool: Heat Stresses

OSHA Quick Card: Heat Stress

OSHA Fact Sheet: Protecting Workers From Effects of Heat

OSHA Fact Sheet: Working Outdoors in Warm Climates

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Emergency Preparedness and Response: Frequently Asked Questions About Extreme Heat

CDC Extreme Heat

CDC Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety

Lightning

eLCOSH Hazard Alert: Lightning Protection
en Español

eLCOSH Lightning Safety

Noise

NIOSH Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention

eLCOSH Hazard Alert: Construction Noise
en Español

eLCOSH Noise Training Guide

Ultraviolet Radiation

NIOSH UV Radiation

OSHA Sawmill eTool: UV Radiation

OSHA Protecting Yourself In the Sun

CDC Traveler's Health: Yellow Book - Non-Infectious Risks During Travel: Sunburn

CDC Skin Cancer

Biological Hazards

Poisonous Plants

NIOSH Poisonous Plants

OSHA Sawmills eTool: Poisonous Plants

Scorpions

NIOSH Insects and Scorpions

CDC Scorpions: Pictorial Key to Some Common U.S. Species

Snakes

NIOSH Venomous Snakes

CDC Snakes: Pictorial Key to Venomous Species in the U.S.

CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response: How to Prevent or Respond to a Snake Bite

Spiders

NIOSH Poisonous Spiders

OSHA Fact Sheet: Black Widow Spider

OSHA Fact Sheet: Brown Recluse Spider

CDC Spiders: Key to Some Important U.S. Species

Venomous Wildlife and Insects

OSHA Quick Card: Rodents, Snakes, and Insects
en Español

Vector-Borne Diseases

Mosquito-borne Diseases

NIOSH West Nile Virus

Recommendations for Protecting Outdoor Workers from West Nile Virus Exposure
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-115 (September 2005)
en Español

OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin: West Nile Virus

OSHA Quick Card: West Nile Virus
en Español

University of Florida - IFAS Extension: Mosquito Information Website

Stinging Insects

NIOSH Insects and Scorpions

OSHA Fact Sheet: Fire Ants

CDC Stinging Hymenoptera: Pictorial Key to Some Common U.S. Families

Tick-borne Diseases

NIOSH Tick-Borne Diseases

NIOSH Lyme Disease

OSHA Sawmill eTool: Tick-borne Illnesses

OSHA Lyme Disease Alert Fact Sheet

OSHA Logging eTool: Tick-borne Disease

OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin: Potential for Occupational Exposure to Lyme Disease

 
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  • Page last reviewed: June 5, 2013
  • Page last updated: July 11, 2013
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