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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Spring safety: Be prepared for these 5 seasonal hazards

Thanks to an unseasonably warm winter, we won’t have to deal with hazards related to slushy snow and ice this spring. But there are other seasonal hazards that businesses with outdoor workers or employees who drive for work need to be prepared for, says WSPS Consultant Kristin Onorato.

“Ideally, workplaces already have programs and controls in place for these hazards, but spring is a good time to review, refresh, evaluate and implement any opportunities for improvement,” says Kristin. “Some of the hazards we see in spring pose even greater risks than the summer months.”

And remember, spring hazards also occur off the job. “It’s a good idea to educate the entire workforce about these hazards so they can protect themselves and their families,” suggests Kristin.

Ready yourself for these 5 spring hazards

1. Severe weather. Heavy rains, hail, winds, and thunderstorms are common in spring, and there is also the risk of tornadoes. These events can affect both road safety (see below) and personal safety.

For example, every year, there are fatalities and injuries from lightning strikes. Outdoor workers account for 22 percent of lightning fatalities, according to Canadian statistics. “Put safety protocols in place now to prepare your employees for the summer season when lightning is more prevalent, and lightning-related deaths and injuries are at their peak,” says Kristin.

“Don’t assume your outdoors workers know how to stay safe when faced with any of these weather conditions. Provide them with detailed action steps to avoid injury.

2. Dangerous driving conditions. Rain and mud can lead to slushy and slippery road conditions. Here are some safety tips for your employees who drive.

  • Provide company drivers with refresher training on defensive driving techniques and how to prevent, and recover from, skids and hydroplaning.
  • Change out winter tires – they will wear down and could pose a danger when used in non-snowy conditions.
  • Advise drivers to:
    • turn off cruise control in wet conditions to prevent losing control of vehicles.
    • use defrosters and lights.
    • keep plenty of windshield wiper fluid on hand.
    • check tire pressure and tread.
    • pull over if conditions are bad.
    • wear high-quality sunglasses (or prescription sunglasses) – glare is greater in the spring and summer at dawn and sunset.

3. Animal encounters. Potential encounters with animals while working outdoors or while driving are greater in the spring when animals come out of hibernation and are looking for food and water. Animal/vehicle collisions are the biggest concern in spring. In Ontario, 14,000 wildlife collisions are reported for large animals each year.  Provide employees with tips on how to stay safe and avoid collisions. For example:

  • Watch for animal crossing signs and slow down.
  • Be extra alert around rivers and lakes.
  • If you see an animal on the side of the road, slow down and beep your horn in short bursts.
  • Use high beams on unlit roads when appropriate, look for glowing eyes, slow down and flash your lights on and off if you see an animal.
  • Do not slam the brakes because you may lose control or pose a danger to other vehicles.
  • Use your horn in short bursts or flash your high beams and try to come to a gradual stop.

In addition, outdoor workers need information on species they may encounter in their region and what evasive actions they should take if necessary.

“Most wildlife will avoid humans and should be left alone, but it’s important to be aware, and know what to do in case you’re confronted,” says Kristin. Occasionally workers may spot injured large or smaller animals. Consider providing them with numbers for local wildlife rescues.

4. Sun and heat. Heat stress is usually associated with summer months, but with a new global heat record set in 2023, workers may be affected earlier. “This is a great time to dust off your heat stress program,” says Kristin.

Heat stress is a serious and sometimes fatal condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 38 °C. Employers can help mitigate heat stress by educating outdoor workers about warning signs and symptoms and providing them with shade, water, cooling stations, cooling gear and more. Check out the heat stress program resources at the end of the article for more information on heat stress.

Exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun also puts workers at risk of developing skin cancer. It’s the leading occupational cancer in Canada, with an estimated 5,000 cases each year. Employers can reduce risks for workers by keeping them out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm, providing shade, encouraging workers to wear protective clothing and hats and use sunscreen, and educating workers and supervisors about skin cancer.

5. Insects and vegetation. Ticks that may carry Lyme disease are prevalent in spring. It’s important for workers to wear gloves and long sleeves, and use insect repellent when working near long grass or forested areas.

Providing outdoor workers with education on poison ivy, hogweed and other dangerous vegetation is also important, so they can avoid contact with these irritants – some of which can pose significant bodily harm.

How WSPS can help

WSPS occupational hygiene consultants can help you set up a sun safety and heat stress policy and program.


Other resources

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date

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Categorized in: WSPS