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The diversity of modern work environments means that while the majority of the workforce spends its days in a building, it is equally likely others work in the great outdoors. And while the latter work hazards may differ greatly from those encountered inside, companies still need to make sure that their occupational safety protocols are compliant with federal regulations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 50% of all jobs in 2016 required some element of being outside. That is great news for people who want to work in the fresh air, as there are a number of occupations more geared to an outdoor work environment than others.
Jobs in construction, agriculture, leisure and hospitality, utilities, and transportation can have a work balance that is more often than not skewed toward the outdoors. On the flip side, outdoor jobs provide a working environment that is often unpredictable and filled with hazards. These hazards are usually related to the type of work, the geographic region, the time of year and the length of time workers are outside.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines outdoor hazards as physical (extreme cold, extreme heat, sun exposure and noise, for example) and biological (poisonous plants, venomous insects and animals). As an added bonus, the CDC also warns that both vector-borne diseases, such as mosquito bites, and exposure to pesticides or other chemicals play in role in how effective outdoor-centric Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) management can be.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires companies to comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards. In a controlled environment such as a manufacturing plant or warehouse, the chances of extreme weather exposure are greatly reduced. By the same chalk, venomous spiders, snakes, insects and scorpions are not commonly found indoors.
The bad news is that in an outdoor working environment, these defined physical and biological hazards are far more likely. Outdoor jobs require more specialized oversight to ensure the safety of workers.
A construction site, say, could have numerous hazards—holes, exposed trenches, asbestos, to name but three. In addition, outdoor workers who are exposed to extreme heat, for example, can suffer from dehydration, exhaustion and heat stroke.
With that in mind, OSHA says that anybody who is working in temperatures that exceed 103º Fahrenheit is at risk of experiencing a medical emergency that can become fatal. In the depths of winter, any outdoor workplace that is close to or under freezing is also probably not a good place to be. Factor into the equation that there are some industrial jobs that can involve both heat and cold stress, and it becomes clear that an outdoor work environment has a lot of hazardous elements in play.
It is worth noting that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration does not have a specific standard for physical work in outdoor environments, but its website does provide a large number of resources for companies that have an outside workforce.
OSHA does recommend that enterprises conduct a job hazard analysis before sending workers into the field. This analysis is essentially a checklist of what could possibly go wrong and what occupational safety protocols can be implemented to reduce the risk of worker injury. A good hazard scenario should include the environment in which the potential hazard is encountered, the exposure to that hazard, the trigger for the event and the consequences (should it happen) for the worker(s) in question.With that in mind, OSHA offers job hazard analysis examples for a variety of industry sectors.
Ultimately, the risks of working outdoors are often outweighed by the fact that the worker is not stuck indoors. Granted, working outside on a summer day is more preferable to a work assignment in the rain or during a snowstorm, but the onus is still on making sure that staff are safe in that particular work environment.
Companies that want to address their workplace safety standards and reduce potential risks should avail themselves of ProcessMAP’s health and safety software. Our solutions suite has been instrumental in streamlining safety activities and potential citation issues via a user-friendly and intuitive platform. For more details as to how ProcessMAP can transform your EHS requirements, contact us today.