Safety to Go

shutterstock/peter waters/natrot. A brown cockroach.
photo credit: shutterstock/peter waters/natrot

Mobile service employees working on temporary residential and commercial job sites face unique challenges, including airborne toxins (such as mold), driving hazards, vermin, unruly pets and even poisonous animals. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid injury and illness.

Service workers often spend a large part of their workday driving. It’s important to know that more than 1,700 people are killed in occupational-related transportation accidents every year, accounting for roughly 40% of all on-the-job fatalities. There are a number of safety precautions that can be taken to help reduce the number of incidents that occur.

Employers should develop an effective vehicle safety program to protect their employees. First, employers should make sure employees have a proper and valid driver’s license. Any restrictions or traffic-violation convictions must be reported to a supervisor, and employees operating a company vehicle should know all traffic-safety laws relevant to the state where they are driving.

Prior to driving a company vehicle, employees should check it is in safe operating condition and conduct a pretrip and post-trip inspection as required by law or company policy.

Workers should always wear a seat belt and remember they are representing the company or employer while driving. Anyone operating a company vehicle should drive defensively and courteously toward pedestrians and other vehicles.

Once workers arrive at the job site, they should know the variables that could create hazardous scenarios. For example, employees may be required to work in poorly lit environments or uncomfortable and ergonomically incorrect positions.

Workers can use tools to eliminate or address awkward or uncomfortable angles and take regular breaks to mitigate discomfort.

On residential jobs, workers may face disgruntled customers and possibly aggressive pets. At times, workers may be required to work in isolated areas or bad neighborhoods. If this is the case, employees must pay attention to their surroundings and should maintain contact with company dispatchers or other colleagues to ensure they are safely accounted for throughout the day.

Service workers may also encounter a variety of other environmental hazards such as airborne toxins (e.g., mold or fiberglass insulation), vermin, rodents, poisonous spiders and snakes. According to the OSHA “Mold in the Workplace Guide,” “Molds can cause adverse effects by producing allergens. The onset of allergic reactions to mold can be either immediate or delayed. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms such as runny nose and red eyes.” Mold can be cleaned up or removed using a wet-dry vacuum, a damp wipe or a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum (HEPA); disposing of damaged materials; or by use of biocides. Workers can also protect themselves from airborne toxins by using respiratory protection.

The OSHA “Vermin Control Guide” indicates, “Workers at outdoor worksites, as well as in enclosed spaces, have the potential for exposure to vermin. Birds and rodents can transmit disease directly, as well as through their urine or feces.”

While vermin cannot be completely prevented, employers should have a written program in place for dealing with the hazard. When employees must work in areas that have been occupied by vermin, the environment should be cleaned, and appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn to protect the individual. PPE and clothing should be handled and laundered in accordance with company policies, as well.

Three types of venomous spiders—black widow, brown recluse and hobo—are found throughout the United States. They pose a risk both on and off the job. They are most commonly encountered by those that work in cool dark places and outdoors. It is important to understand how to identify and avoid these spiders.

To avoid an encounter with a venomous spider, workers should always inspect or shake out any clothing, shoes, towels or equipment before use. Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, hat, gloves and boots when handling stacked or undisturbed piles of materials. Minimize the empty spaces between stacked materials.

If employees encounter a snake, they should stop working immediately and allow it to pass or wait for professional removal. A snake’s striking distance is about half the length of its body.

Mobile workers face many hazards while on the job, and proper training and preparation can keep your workforce safe wherever they are.  

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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