It is said that spring is a time of new growth for Mother Nature, but it is also true for many man-made industries. It can be a time of heavy workload, especially for construction and related industries. Each season presents very real hazards that everyone must be made aware of.
It is a good idea to train employees about these potential hazards — and ways to mitigate them — for each season. This article spotlights a few of the hazards that can easily be forgotten during training and reviews what should be discussed about the hazard.
Contrary to popular belief, many types of construction occur during the winter, especially after a major storm has damaged part of a facility or substation due to fallen limbs and trees or ice buildup. It is very important to conduct a careful walk-down of the grounds when entering a substation or facility after any extended absence. Things may have changed that could adversely affect your ability to perform work efficiently and safely. A gate could have been relocated, stairs to a substation house could have been rebuilt, or a piece of apparatus could have been changed out by the utility. Keep an eye open for these changes, make note of them, and discuss the changes during the pre-job briefing with all employees who will be doing the work. This includes those within your company as well as any company your work might affect or whose work might have an impact on your work.
Insect infestations can be identified during the walk-down. Look into likely areas where wasps and bees like to nest. Insects are not that active on cold mornings in the spring and fall, so it can be very difficult to spot a nest. During warmer afternoons, insect activity can ratchet up, and this is when exposure to them can be hazardous. Be sure to identify potential locations for nests, discuss them during the briefing, and remind co-workers to keep an eye out for activity when it warms. In the summer, when it is very warm, bees and wasps are very active and abundant, so eliminate the nests early in the season to prevent them from multiplying in the summer in your work area.
It is important to come loaded for bear. Ensure that insect repellant, wasp spray, and other means of killing or repelling insects are available. Train employees on how to prevent stings and other interactions with insects and methods to identify their presence.
In many areas of the country, scorpions can be an issue. Blind reaching can be a problem because scorpions crawl into tight spaces to seek warmth during a cold spring or fall night. Remind all employees to look into an area before they reach into it. Scorpions can be very active during warmer months.
Poisonous spiders like the black widow or brown recluse are potential problems in most parts of the United States. Just as with scorpions, keep an eye out for them or indications of their presence. Webs are an easy way to identify whether spiders are present. Do not reach blind, and shake out articles of clothing such as gloves prior to putting them on.
Ticks are an issue year round. Tucking pants into boots, wearing light-colored clothing, and spraying with insect repellant will help deter tick bites. Stay out of areas of long grass or woods, if possible. Do a head-to-toe check for ticks when leaving these areas. If a tick does attach itself, grab it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of sharp-nose tweezers, then pull it off slowly and steadily. Save the tick in a baggie so it can be tested for Lyme disease. Report the tick to the appropriate person, such as the company safety manager, to fill out any forms. Schedule a visit to the clinic if necessary. Companies should also train employees to identify the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.
Some employees may be allergic to bites from certain insects. If someone is allergic, they should make that fact known during the briefing. Other members of the crew should be trained in how and when to administer an epinephrine shot if one is prescribed. Everyone needs to be aware of the proper method for contacting emergency response personnel and reporting their actual physical location. Training in emergency response to insect bites is an important part of any first aid training.
Snakes are cold-blooded, like all other reptiles, and seek out warm areas during cold evenings. Adequate lighting and not reaching blindly into spaces can help prevent a snake bite. Learn how to identify snakes, and stay away from the ones that are poisonous. Do not approach them. Make plenty of noise and give them enough space to move on their way. They are likely more afraid of us than we are of them. If bitten by a snake, seek immediate emergency medical care. Even if not venomous, a snake’s bite can lead to infection if not treated properly. As with insects, the warmer it is, the more active cold-blooded creatures like snakes become, so they are very active in the summer. At the peak of summer, in some of the warmer areas of the country, they may even seek cooler areas to hang out at noon.
Spring is rodent breeding season. They like to build nests in warm and dry environments. Adequate lighting for work is a must, and avoid reaching blindly into spaces. A bite from a mouse or rat can become infected, so seek medical treatment. Many illnesses are known to be present in fresh rodent urine and feces. If there is fresh urine or feces, vacuuming with a HEPA-equipped vacuum and spraying the area with an antibacterial spray or a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water will help reduce the potential for illness from exposure to rodent feces or urine.
Rodents also tend to get into panels. Removing a panel while live may startle the rodent, causing it to jump into live parts. This can cause a potentially deadly arc flash or other electrical event. Proper personal protective equipment designed for the hazard/risk category of the task must be worn for protection while opening the panel.
Birds can sometimes nest in the worst areas. Their nesting can cause an electrical event, such as a flash, to occur. Additionally, bird droppings have been known to cause illnesses. A HEPA vacuum and bleach solution is again recommended to minimize exposure if working in environments that have a significant amount of droppings.
Skunks, coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, and many other wild animals can be a health threat to workers. Training should be conducted on a regular basis to teach employees how to identify the wildlife in the area where they will be working and what to do when they come face to face with an animal. These animals all become more active during their respective mating season, so be aware of what lives in the work area and when they are most active.
Deer hunting is in season at different times in different areas, but it is in the fall and winter months in most parts of the United States. Be aware of when deer hunting season is in your work area since this can become an issue for employees working on a right of way. During deer hunting season, employees working on a right of way should wear high-visibility orange vests and hats or hard hats. This color is easily recognizable to hunters and can prevent unfortunate hunting accidents.
The spring thaw can lead to many landscape changes. Potholes and sinkholes can develop and frost heaves could have occurred, all contributing to increased slip, trip, and fall hazards. New plant growth can also contribute to tripping. At night, the ground can become slippery with ice from overnight frost or from wet leaves that have fallen on the ground. Care must be taken to identify and eliminate any of these hazards.
Spring is also the time when facilities make improvements to their landscaping. Be aware of private landscapers and keep an eye on them. In some cases, they may cause or contribute to additional hazards. Piling soil, blowing leaves, and throwing debris from mowing can all cause an issue for other workers on a site.
It goes without saying that cold nights with below-freezing temperatures can lead to icy surfaces. Be especially aware that walkways can become icy in the early spring and late fall when it is moist and cold at night. People tend to use more caution in the dead of winter, when ice is expected, than at other times when it may still occur.
In some areas of the country, fall leads to falling leaves. These leaves are blown and accumulate over the winter and get dry in the spring. In summer, when there is usually less rainfall, grass, mulch, and other vegetation can get very dry, exacerbating the potential for fire. Train employees on what to do should a fire occur, how to use fire extinguishers, and how to report a fire. Be aware of drought and fire conditions, and prevent hot work such as welding, cutting, and grinding operations in areas where a fire is likely to occur. Take every means necessary to prevent a fire.
Employee training must include not only the refreshers required by regulations but also any of the hazards an employee might encounter working outside or in the field during every season. A tailboard or pre-job briefing is a great time to discuss seasonal hazards. Take the time to review these hazards, and teach employees how they should react or what they should do if they encounter one of these hazards.
Paul Chamberlain has been the Safety Manager for American Electrical Testing Co. LLC since 2009. He has been in the safety field since 1998, working for various companies and in various industries. Paul received a BS from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.