"DO WHAT WE CAN, SUMMER WILL HAVE ITS FLIES." (RALPH WALDO EMERSON)
If only flies were the least of our summer worries. There are mosquitoes and ticks to contend with, Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac to avoid and dangerously hot temperatures to weather. For the average person, that might not be difficult. For many blue collar workers, like railroaders, who have to work outside, staying safe can be much more challenging. What can you do?
RAILROAD'S DUTY TO PROVIDE A SAFE WORK PLACE
First and foremost, your employer railroad has a duty to provide you with a safe work environment when working outdoors and facing possible exposure to disease-carrying insects, poisonous foliage or extreme heat. If after having notice of stagnant pools of water, ticks in an area, extreme temperatures with no means to keep hydrated, etc., a railroad fails to take action to provide a safe work environment, it can be held liable if you become sick as a result.
In a landmark case, a railroad allowed a stagnant pool to remain next to its tracks in Ohio where many dead animals lay. A railroad worker was bitten by an insect next to the pool, sustained an infection and eventually had both legs amputated. The Supreme Court affirmed a verdict for this railroader holding that the railroad had a duty to protect against such hazards. The Long Island Railroad was also held liable for failure to provide protection against ticks when it knew or should have known its maintenance of way workers were exposed to ticks, whose bites caused the workers to contract Lyme disease.
PUT THE RAILROAD ON NOTICE
Although the railroad has a duty to inspect for signs of problems, reporting these unsafe conditions keeps the railroad from "overlooking" these matters, helps puts the railroad on notice and gives them an opportunity to take actions to protect you and your fellow railroaders in your work environment. If the railroad fails to take action to correct the unsafe conditions, having reported them will aid you in recovering financially from the railroad if you become sick.
It's important if you are at work and see unsafe conditions such as standing water, insect infestations, dead animals, etc., you report it to your railroad and detail:
- Where exactly the problem is located in the yard; and
- Where exactly you spend a majority your time working and being exposed to the unsafe condition.
KNOW THE PROBLEMS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
If you know you've been bitten by a mosquito or a tick, don't confuse symptoms with those of the flu.
MOSQUITOES & WEST NILE VIRUS
Most people will be bitten by mosquitoes and have no problems, even if they are infected with the West Nile Virus. Only a small percentage of people develop mild symptoms which could include:
- Body Aches
- Upset Stomach
- Swollen Glands
- Skin Rash
An even smaller percentage of people may develop more serious symptoms which could include:
- Stiff Neck
- High Fever
- Severe Headache
Symptoms of West Nile Virus may not be noticeable for up to 2 to 15 days after exposure. Symptoms of a mild case may only last for a few days, while symptoms of a severe case may last much longer and possibly have permanent ramifications such as neurological damage.
TICKS & LYME DISEASE
You don't have to be in the deep forest to be bitten by a tick. To avoid being bitten by a tick when outdoors, take as many of the following precautions as possible:
Use Bug Repellent with DEET (For Clothing & Skin, Repellents With Permethrin Are For Clothing Only)
- Wear Light-Colored Clothing
- Wear Long Sleeves & Long Pants
- Wear a Hat
- Tuck Pant Legs In To Socks
After you've been outdoors, promptly check your body and clothing for ticks (preferably before going indoors). Ticks can crawl on your body for up to several hours before actually biting you (commonly on your scalp, neck, behind the ears, underarms, back of your knees). The quicker a tick is removed from your body, the less likely you will develop symptoms of Lyme Disease.
IF YOU ARE BITTEN BY A TICK:
Use sharp tweezers (near its head or mouth) to carefully remove the whole tick by gently pulling straight out. (Do not use heat or petroleum jelly.) If you are unable to remove the whole tick, contact your doctor. It's also a good idea to save the tick in a sealed container to show your doctor in case you develop symptoms.
Once the tick is removed from your body, use soap and water to wash your hands and the area around the tick bite. For extra precaution, swab the bite area with rubbing alcohol.
If after you've been bitten by a tick you develop any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- Rash at Site of Bite (May Look Like a Bull's Eye)
- Fever / Chills
- Stiff Neck
- Body Aches
- Joint Pain / Inflammation
- Swollen Glands
- Flu-Like Symptoms
If you develop any of the more severe symptoms, don't wait for a doctor appointment, call 911:
- Severe Headache
- Difficulty Breathing
- Chest Pain / Heart Palpitations
Left untreated, Lyme Disease can result in permanent arthritis and in the most rare, extreme cases can cause damage to the nervous system.
Symptoms from a tick bite may not be noticeable for 3 to 30 days, but can be easily treated with antibiotics. If you know it's extremely hot outside, be safe.
HEAT RELATED ILLNESS
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 318 Americans die each year from heat-related illnesses. Outdoor workers (like railroaders) are most as risk as they are least likely to keep hydrated.
When working outdoors, remember:
- The more you sweat, the more you need to match with your body's fluid intake.
- Your body can acclimatize to the heat which increases your need for fluids.
- Provide your body with fluids BEFORE you are thirsty.
- Drink water and sports drinks (avoid caffeine or alcohol).
- Understand that heat related illnesses occur in stages.
Heat cramps is the earliest, but least severe of heat related illnesses. It can be brought on by over exertion combined with heavy sweating. Symptoms can include painful muscle cramps and spasms, usually in the abdomen and legs. A person suffering from heat cramps should move to a cool place, rest and slowly drink small amount of cool liquids. Gentle stretches will also help relieve the pain.
Heat exhaustion occurs more on hot, humid days when the body's sweat doesn't easily evaporate, preventing the body from cooling down. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include: cool - flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, upset stomach, dizziness, and exhaustion. With heat exhaustion, the body temperature remains around normal. A person suffering from heat exhaustion should move to a cool place, rest, slowly drink small amounts of cool liquids and place cool, wet towels on the body. If no relief is achieved or symptoms become worse, medical attention should be sought.
Heat stroke is the most serious of heat related illnesses as it is life-threatening. A person suffering from heat stroke will experience a rise in body temperature because the body's cooling system shuts down. A high body temperature that is not quickly cooled down can lead to brain damage and death. Symptoms of heat stroke may include: hot - red skin, weak pulse, shallow breathing, dizziness, changes in consciousness, vomiting. Someone experiencing these symptoms needs emergency medical care and 911 should be called. While waiting for medical care, a person should be moved to a cooler place and steps taken to quickly bring down the body temperature, such as by placing cool, wet towels on their body (especially on the wrists, underarms and back of neck).
(Do not use rubbing alcohol as it is not affective since it closes the body's pores and prevents the body from cooling down.)
POISON IVY, OAK AND SUMAC
Because half of all adults will suffer an allergic reaction within 12 to 48 hours of coming into contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac plants, it's important that you familiarize yourself with what these plants look like – and avoid them. If you come into contact with any of these plants, thoroughly wash your skin, clothing or other objects (shoes, tools, etc.) that that came into contact with the plants. (You can use rubbing alcohol on your skin to help remove the plant's sap.) This will help prevent its spread. Relief from the rash / blister can be found in over the counter medicines like:
- Antihistamines like Benadryl
- Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream (with Oatmeal)
- Calamine Lotion
- Cortizone 10
- Zanfel Wash For Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac
However, if the infected areas are near the eyes or mouth, or if other medical conditions such as swelling develop, medical attention should be sought.
- Bathing will not spread the infection.
- Coming into contact with oozing blisters will not spread the infection.
- When more areas appear, it is not because the infection is spreading, it's because it takes 12 to 48 hours for an allergic reaction to appear.
- Poison ivy, oak and sumac are not contagious.
TAKE THE STING OUT OF SUMMER
Take steps now to prevent becoming ill this summer due to exposure while working in an unsafe work environment. Report unsafe conditions to your railroad!
If you have questions regarding this subject, or believe you may have become ill due to having worked in an unsafe environment, please contact us at 1-888-425-1212.
(Click here for additional information on Vector Borne Diseases - provided by Carol Menges, President, UTU Ladies Auxiliary.)