The Weather-Wise Surveyor

July 24, 2002
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A smart list of weather-related safety tips.



Weather affects all of us on a daily basis. We make important decisions based upon what the weather is supposed to be. Humans can only handle weather in moderate amounts. Extremes in heat, cold, wind, rain, or snow will disrupt anyone’s plans. Learning to cope with the extremes is important. Let’s look at some of the important facts on weather-related safety.

Heat

Heat is one extreme weather condition. The frequency of outdoor working accidents is often higher in hot environments than in more moderate environmental conditions. One reason for this is that working in a hot environment lowers our mental alertness and physical performance. Increased body temperatures and discomfort make people irritable. As our patience wears, we tend to take short cuts and forget about required procedures…a sure setup for an accident to occur. There are a number of heat-related illnesses that must be monitored. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, fainting, heat rash and transient heat fatigue are all illnesses that can affect the body.

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as dizziness, nausea, weakness, dry pale skin, hot red skin, seizures and mood changes are critical indicators. For all but minor cases of heat-related illnesses the employee should see a medical professional. Taking a first line offense against heat-related illnesses should be your prime concern. It takes five to seven days for the average human to adjust to temperature extremes. During very hot and humid conditions even those employees in the best physical condition need to be cautious. The basic safety tips to remember in hot weather: dress in light-colored, lightweight and loose clothing; drink plenty of cool water (at least one cup every 15 minutes); and take plenty of breaks in the shade. More frequent short breaks are preferred to less frequent longer breaks. Try to schedule the most strenuous work for the cooler parts of the day. I am very partial to some of the liquid replenishment drinks such as Gatorade. These drinks allow the body to absorb more of the liquid. Avoid all alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks. They actually help to cause dehydration.

Heat is often related to sun exposure. However, the ultraviolet rays of the sun can also cause damage, particularly to the eyes. Skin cancer can be a major medical problem. Keeping a high SPF factor (Sun Protection Factor) sun block on all exposed skin and wearing a good grade of sunglasses will help.

Cold

Cold temperatures also require several days for the average human to adjust. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. Add any moisture to the combination and the effects cannot only be more severe, but can occur faster. The three basic environmental conditions that cause cold-related stress are low temperatures, wind and moisture. In some situations, temperatures do not even have to be below freezing to cause cold-related disorders. A loss of body heat is the determining factor for hypothermia. Preventing cold-related disorders goes back to the basics on how to dress: wear an outer layer to break the wind and allow some ventilation and have a middle layer to absorb sweat and retain insulation capabilities. Down makes a good insulator, but it doesn’t provide protection when it gets wet. The inner layer should be cotton or a synthetic weave that allows ventilation. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost through the head, so properly protecting the head from cold weather is essential. If a hard hat is required for a job, use an acceptable liner. Do not wear your hard hat over any other headgear. Your feet should be protected by insulated footwear in combination with good quality socks. If crews will be working quite a distance away from the office, they should have extra footwear and socks in case they become wet. During cold weather, it is also a good idea to keep a change of clothes handy in case they get wet.

Wind

Wind is another environmental condition that effects surveyors. In extremely hot weather wind can actually help the body. As with any environmental condition though, wind is only good in moderate amounts. While a 15-20 mph breeze adds relief, a 60 mph wind can make it difficult to work. High winds can cause debris and dust to fly through the air. If the debris is heavy enough it could cause trauma to the body. Even getting dust in the eyes can require a trip to the doctor. Wearing protective eyewear in windy conditions is wise.

Windy conditions on elevated surfaces can be unsafe. There are varying factors involved in determining how high the wind can get before work should stop. This should be discussed with field employees so they know to stop working when winds become high on elevated worksites. Even working on the roadway can become dangerous during high winds. High profile vehicles can blow all over the roadway during windy conditions. Avoid working on or around any roadways when high winds are present.

Rain

Rain not only creates its own unsafe conditions, it also increases the potential for other unsafe conditions. Any rain on a walking or working surface can create slick conditions. Proper footing is essential, such as good quality footwear that offers some slip resistance during wet conditions. When working on or near roadways there is also an increased chance of being hit by an errant motor vehicle. Although crews will not be working during heavy rains, with today’s equipment, a light rain won’t stop them. This requires that the crew not only take extra safety precautions, but they must also have proper rainwear. A good quality jacket that offers adequate ventilation is essential. Reflective striping on the jacket is also important. During rainy weather, visibility is quite often diminished. When working around any electric lines or equipment, the added danger of electrocution is always present. When water is on even non-conductive surfaces electrocution can occur. As mentioned in the cold weather section, the addition of any moisture, including rain, can add to the dangerous effects of hypothermia or trench foot.

Snow

Snow on a roadway makes traveling very slick. When snow gets in boots or on clothes, it melts from body heat. That adds the needed moisture to increase the potential for cold-related disorders. When walking through heavy snow it takes much more energy than walking during warmer weather, causing our body to sweat. This is when having layered clothing to wick moisture away from the skin becomes essential.

The accumulation of snow and ice on overhead power lines or tree limbs can make dangerous conditions even worse. Not only can the ice or snow fall, but it can cause limbs and power lines to fall. Always be watchful for dangerous loads on power lines or tree limbs. Ice creates most of the same dangers as both rain and snow.

Storms

Winter storms can create zero visibility in seconds. When in the field, always be aware of current weather conditions and the forecast for the area. Don’t get caught in remote areas when dangerous winter conditions are predicted. Leave immediately at the first sign of these conditions. Even being stranded in your vehicle is preferential to being caught in the open. These warnings are applicable to summer storms as well. Although we can see lightning during the winter, it is mostly common during warmer weather. Lightning can travel up to 10 miles in a horizontal direction before striking ground. That means you can have blue sky overhead and still be struck by lightning! A recent statistic states that over 60 percent of the people killed by lightning are killed after the storm goes through an area. Lightning has been measured from the thousands of volts up to the millions of volts. We are warned to not take shelter under a tree during lightning, yet dozens of people are killed each year while standing under trees. Static buildup in the atmosphere can occur in some situations. Employees should be warned that if they feel the hair standing up on the back of their neck and a slight tingling sensation, they should immediate fall to the ground and get into the fetal position. Although the warning may only last for a second, it may be long enough to diminish the potential for a direct hit by lightning. Some reports say people who have been hit by lightning and survived said there is an odd smell just before the strike.

Tornadoes are certainly a severe form of a storm. When tornado watches are given for an area all field crews should be alerted. When a warning has been given for an area they should take shelter immediately. Unless something really comes up fast, they should have enough warning to reach shelter. If they do get caught in the open, they should get to the lowest spot in the area, lie flat on the ground and place their hands over their heads for protection. Many news and health organizations advise seeking shelter in a culvert, but remember that culverts can become raging torrents of water in minutes. Also, many culverts are next to overhead power lines that could cause an electrocution hazard during a tornado.

When a hurricane is approaching, there is usually enough warning, so nobody should be out surveying.

Stay Protected

Being informed of weather conditions is one of the most important parts of preventing hazards. I have been keeping two weather radios handy for the past several years. Both of them are manufactured by Oregon Scientific. My primary unit is an AC desk or wall-mounted radio. It tunes all of the major NOAA weather frequencies. Inside use weather radios can be purchased for as little as $20. I also have a portable weather radio manufactured by Oregon Scientific that sells for around $50. It is battery powered and will clip to a belt for use in the field. Both radios can be set to tone alert so nothing is heard until a warning or watch is issued. I consider portable weather radios an essential part of any field crew’s tools. Some people monitor the weather via weather radio and Internet and inform crews of any dangerous conditions that might be approaching their area.

A new item available for surveyors is a storm detector manufactured by Spectrum Electronics of Tampa, Fla., called ThunderBolt. I am in the process of testing the unit as I pen this article and so far am impressed by its capabilities. It will alert you via a display screen when a storm is detected, and then at preset intervals an audible warning will let you know your limits have been reached. The storms are tracked, and in most cases the unit will tell you how long you have before the storm hits your area. My unit went off yesterday when a storm was detected approaching at about 49 miles away. It then gives an estimate as to how long it will take for the storm to pass.

I hope this article has added to your awareness on weather-related safety issues. Although your employees may not have to pledge to walk through snow, rain, heat or gloom of night, they have to work outside on a regular basis and their safety is dependent on their understanding of weather and weather-related safety.

Before you head out on a project, visit www.pobonline.com and enter the zip code for the jobsite where you’ll be working in the weather box. Know before you go!

Recommended Websites

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

www.cdc.gov/niosh/hotenvt.html

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor)

www.osha.gov

SafetyLine Inc.

www.safetyline.com/

Glacier Tek Inc.*

https://ssl5.cniweb.net/glaciertek/index.html

Although Glacier Tek vests possess the potential for relieving the discomfort of hot, humid weather, the vests may not meet safety standards for traffic safety in your area.

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