Recent MIIA News
Training Seasonal Workers Can Reduce Risk
With the arrival of summer, many cities and towns will be hiring part-time employees and college and high school students to fill seasonal positions in summer camps, recreational programs, grounds keeping and maintenance. Each year, seasonal employees suffer a number of injuries that can have a negative impact on a municipality’s loss experience long after the employee is off the payroll. Fortunately, inexpensive preventative measures and simple administrative controls can go a long way to prevent injuries and the costly disruption of operations.
In order to maintain a safe and productive workplace, municipal employers must provide all employees with appropriate orientation and training. Temporary employees are often exposed to the same hazards faced by permanent employees, and without proper training, injuries become more likely.
Municipal managers should make equipment operation manuals available and adjust their schedules to allow ample time for training on equipment that will be used by seasonal employees. Managers should not assume that any employee knows how to operate equipment – whether it’s a lawn mower, a motor vehicle, or a camp cook stove.
Another operational area that tends to suffer in times of tight budgets is preventive maintenance of mechanical areas, vehicles and equipment. Trimming preventive maintenance budgets may spare a few dollars in the short term, but a lack of maintenance often leads to larger, more costly problems associated with deteriorating equipment. Repair and replacement is more expensive than routine maintenance, and employees are exposed to more hazardous situations when equipment becomes unsafe to operate.
Additionally, cities and towns should ensure that safety policies and procedures are followed at all times, including mandatory use of personal protective equipment even when temperatures rise on a hot summer day.
Summertime also brings the risk of exposure to skin rashes like poison ivy and insect-borne illnesses. A common infection among those working outdoors is Lyme disease, which is spread by bacteria-carrying deer ticks. In 2005, Massachusetts had the nation’s fourth highest rate of Lyme disease, which can be debilitating if it goes untreated.
Ticks cannot jump or fly; they must come in direct contact with a host. Once a tick latches onto human skin it will generally climb until it reaches a creased area such as the back of the knee, groin, navel, armpit or ears. To prevent exposure to ticks when working outdoors, workers should tuck long pant legs into shoes and wear tightly woven clothing; long hair should be tied back. An insect repellant containing DEET should be applied to exposed skin and clothing when going into overgrown areas. Sitting on the ground or stonewalls should be avoided whenever possible. Employees should learn to recognize deer ticks and scan clothes and skin while outdoors, then do a full body check for ticks at the end of the day.
Municipal employees working outdoors are also susceptible to heat and sun-related illnesses when the body cannot adequately cool itself. It’s critical to recognize the symptoms, since extreme heat-related illness can be life-threatening.
The first stage is painful muscle cramps, which can be eased with rest, stretching and massage. The next, more serious stage is heat exhaustion, indicated by cool, moist and pale skin, headache, nausea, and dizziness and/or weakness. In this case, the victim should rest in a cool place, apply cool wet cloths to the body, and drink a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
Late stage heat-related illness, called heat stroke, is life-threatening. A 911 call should be made immediately if the victim has the following symptoms: vomiting, decreased alertness or loss of consciousness, high body temperature, rapid/weak pulse, and rapid/shallow breathing. The victim’s skin may be moist or red, hot and dry. Lie the victim down in a cooler place until EMTs arrive. Quickly wrap the body in wet sheets and/or place ice packs on their wrists, ankles, neck and armpits to cool large blood vessels. Watch for breathing problems and ensure that the victim’s airway is clear.
Sunburn can lead to work absences and increases the risk of skin cancer, yet only 34 percent of men wear sunscreen, compared to 78 percent of women. Lightweight clothing, hats and sunglasses to shield harmful UV rays are considered personal protective equipment. Choosing the right sunscreen is important: some prevent sunburn but not other sun damage.
A broad-spectrum protection sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) between 15 and 50 should be applied in thin layers – and reapplied every few hours or after swimming or sweating. Look for products with zinc, titanium, avobenzone, or Mexoryl SX. Avoid products containing the synthetic chemical oxybenzone, which can penetrate the skin and contaminate the body. Lotions are better than sprays or powders, which can be harmful if inhaled. An SPF of more than 50 should be avoided, since it can tempt the wearer to stay in the sun longer.
Seasonal employee checklist
Here are a few things to keep in mind when hiring seasonal help:
• Take the time for employee orientation and training on how to use all equipment and personal protection equipment.
• Include temporary employees in tailgate safety talks; use that time to get a feel for how responsive employees will be in following instructions.
• Instruct employees on what to do and whom to contact if something goes wrong (in case of injury, property damage, electrical storms, etc.)
• Make sure supervisors know what employees can and cannot do under child labor laws (such as working certain hours or operating equipment).
• Conduct motor vehicle records checks. Also, conduct Criminal Offender Record Information and Sex Offender Registry Information checks when employees will be working around children.