According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more injuries occur during the summer months than at other times of the year. There are several possible explanations for the spike, including severe heat, rising traffic congestion and roadwork, increased construction activity, more inexperienced workers, and insect-borne illnesses. There are also other risks, such as employer-sponsored teams and events and summer interns, that can lead to costly claims.
The safety scenario changes during the summer months and it’s prudent to review the risks with employees and take steps to minimize or eliminate them. Keeping everyone safe will make for a more productive and engaged workforce and lower the costs of claims.
Here are eight risks that occur the most during the summer months:
- Heat illnessSteamy summer weather combined with intense physical labor can be a recipe for disaster. Minor heat illness symptoms can quickly progress to heat exhaustion and stroke.
Employers can reduce the risks by training supervisors and employees about heat illness prevention, providing an adequate water supply and reminding workers to stay hydrated, ready access to shade, periodic rest breaks, acclimatizing workers, adjusting work operations for the level of heat, providing first aid, avoid employees working alone, and monitoring workers.
Also, a risk profile of the individual workers including age, fitness, experience, weight, medications, heart disease, and high blood pressure can help identify those at greater risk.
- Skin cancerWhile most skin cancers can be prevented, the number of cases continue to increase. According to the CDC, skin cancer costs businesses more than $100 million in lost productivity because of restricted activity or absence from work. In some states, skin cancer is compensable under Workers’ Comp as an occupational illness because of sun exposure on the job.
To prevent skin cancer and serious sun burns, train employees to wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat that shades the face, ears, and back of neck as well as sun block on exposed skin. Training workers to use the UV Index and modify work schedules to adjust when the index is “high” or “extreme,” increasing the amount of shade with tents, cooling stations, and shelters, offering sunscreen, and providing frequent breaks are integral parts of an effective sun safety program.
- Motor vehicle accidentsIncreased travel, inexperienced drivers, road construction, and building activity all contribute to the spike in motor vehicle accidents over the summer. It’s a good time to reinforce the company’s safe driving program, review MVRs to ensure that drivers maintain good driving records, and ensure that the vehicle maintenance and inspection program is working as it should be. Also, be sure new drivers and temporary drivers are properly trained. Daily reminders to drivers to put down distracting devices like cell phones, follow traffic laws, and wear safety belts puts safety at the forefront.
- Insect-borne illnessesIn May, the CDC issued a warning about the steep increase in insect-borne illnesses. Illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S., with more than 640,000 cases reported during the 13 years from 2004 through 2016. Nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks were discovered or introduced into the United States during this time. Symptoms of insect-borne disease include body, muscle and joint pain, fever, rash, headaches, stiff neck, fatigue, and paralysis.
The CDC offers tips to prevent insect stings and bites. Among them:
- Wear clean, light-colored clothing that covers as much of the body as possible.
- Bathe daily while avoiding cologne, perfume and perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants.
- Maintain clean work areas.
- Remain calm around flying insects, as swatting may prompt them to sting.
- Perform daily skin and clothing checks for ticks, which tend to populate worksites near woods, bushes, high grass or leaf litter.
- Use insect repellent with 20 percent to 50 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing, reapplying as necessary.
- FallsWhile falls are a workplace danger throughout the year, they increase during the summer months as a result of increased construction activity, more outdoor work, and intense summer storms. Proper footwear and fall protection PPE are good defenses and hazard assessments and regular, site-specific training are paramount. Developing written policies and plans to make safe options readily available, regularly inspecting equipment and repair/replace as needed, and daily safety meetings should be routine.
Focusing on education and involvement, rather than policing will foster accountability.
- Inexperienced workersIn 2013, nearly one-third of the nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses involving time away from work were suffered by workers with less than one year of service, according to the BLS. Protecting inexperienced workers begins with a risk assessment that goes beyond the identification of hazards and proper guarding of equipment. It should identify the tasks inexperienced workers must NOT do, clearly identifying prohibitions on the use of specific equipment and specified work processes, restricted areas, and activities that can only be done under supervision.
Other steps include: special training and orientation, adequate, consistent supervision, regular reinforcement of safety procedures, encouragement of incident reporting, and the establishment and enforcement of a drug-free workplace. Similar steps should be taken for temporary and summer workers.
- Employer-sponsored sports and eventsWhile most employers sponsor sports teams or activities and family events to build morale, some unwittingly expose themselves to claims that impact workers’ compensation. Whether or not an injury or accident is compensable in workers’ compensation often comes down to a two-part examination of whether the accident was in the “course and scope” of employment, and whether the injury “arose out of” that work.
Although no one rule fits all and each case will be decided on its merits, emphasizing that the social or recreational activity is strictly voluntary and no compensation is provided for participation will help reduce exposure. Before planning an event, it’s best to discuss your exposure with your insurance broker.
- Unpaid internsWhen it comes to unpaid interns, knowing the federal and state laws is key. While some observers are predicting that unpaid internships will increase now that the Department of Labor (DOL) has relaxed its intern compensation standards, there are still standards to be met under the “primary beneficiary test”.
Also, some state laws are more stringent than the federal law. Recently, a Boston private equity firm agreed to pay more than half a million dollars in penalties and wages in a settlement with the AG’s Office over the employer’s improper classification of employees as interns and its failure to pay those employees minimum wage and to keep proper employment records.
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