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Today is the first day of fall. Autumn offers a welcome respite from the heat and a sense of getting back to business after summer vacations, but it also ushers in seasonal exposure hazards.
Cooler air, falling leaves, stormy weather, shorter days, more time indoors and flu season increase exposure risks that can cause accidents, injuries and illnesses. It’s already starting to get dark earlier. Daylight savings time will end in most parts of the U.S. on Nov. 7.
It’s a good time to remind employees about precautions they can take to protect themselves and the health and safety of co-workers, friends and family members. Here are some suggestions.
Fall days can start out pleasantly warm and turn chilly, damp and windy. Rather than be caught off-guard and risk hypothermia, which occurs when the body cannot replace the heat it is losing, it’s advisable for employees to have warm, dry clothing within reach onsite or in their vehicle. Dressing in layers, changing out of damp clothing (including socks), and wearing adequate footwear, a hat and gloves, are among recommended protection measures. On cold days, it’s also helpful to have a warm, non-alcoholic drink on hand, and a safe heated place to take a break. Checking the weather report before traveling or starting work is another recommended prevention measure.
When using ladders on the job or at home, it’s essential to have both feet and one hand on the ladder at all times. It’s also important to use the right kind of ladder for the job. Ladders have specific weight and height limits, and the top rung or step should not be used. The ladder should be placed on level ground and, if needed, leaning against a stable surface. Falls from ladders often occur when reaching, carrying objects, cleaning roofs and gutters, hanging decorations, and when outdoor conditions are wet or icy.
Slips, trips and falls can be prevented when walkways and building entrances are cleared of leaves, water, ice and snow, and warning signs are placed where trip hazards are hidden or cannot be removed. Lighting should be adjusted to illuminate dark or shadowy areas. Encourage employees to wear non-slip footwear and take their time when leaving their vehicles or carrying objects.
Prepare for hazardous fall and winter driving conditions by inspecting company vehicles and replacing fluids, worn tires, headlights and taillights, and windshield wipers. All vehicles should contain a well-supplied first aid kit. Remind employees to do the same with their personal vehicles and reduce their speed when driving in bad weather or darkness. Drivers should stay alert for school buses picking and dropping off children, hazards such as deer, slow-moving farm and construction equipment, and when in stop-and-go traffic. Vehicle operators should not text or talk on hand-held devices while driving.
With the fall there is a higher likelihood of fires. Candles, heaters, over-burdened electrical outlets and sparks from outdoor equipment are among common causes of fires. Consider requiring employees to request approval from a supervisor before using a space heater at work to ensure proper precautions are followed. Inspect equipment such as chain saws and trimmers, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and AEDs. A small amount of effort now will ensure these are in good working order.
Public health officials recommend that all U.S. adults and children over 6 months old get their annual flu vaccination to help prevent the spread of influenza, a potentially serious illness, unless they have a condition that precludes it. This is particularly important given the contagious nature of the COVID-19 Delta variant and current outbreaks. It’s safe for people to receive a flu shot when they are fully or partially vaccinated for COVID-19, and even to get both shots on the same day. COVID and influenza are caused by different types of viruses; two different types of vaccinations are needed.
In general, to help prevent the spread of contagious illnesses like the flu, encourage employees to practice social distancing, frequently wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and clean communal surfaces. Paying close attention to heating, cooling and ventilation systems to ensure good indoor air quality can also help reduce the spread of disease.
As we approach the holiday season, some employees will find it harder to eat right, sustain an exercise routine and get enough sleep. Shorter days and added stress can result in depression, anxiety and irritability. Employees should be encouraged to access behavioral health professionals who can help them manage stress and seasonal mood swings.
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