Outdoor Worker Safety for the Campus Community

Working outdoors in New Jersey can potentially expose employees to a variety of hazards. Please click on the following links to find out more information about topics relevant to those who work outdoors.

Ticks and Tickborne Diseases

There are a variety of ticks endemic in New Jersey. Ticks can spread a variety of bacteria which may cause disease in humans.

Lyme Disease

Probably the most common type of tickborne disease in New Jersey, Lyme Disease is spread by the deer tick. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium may be tranmitted. Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease include an expanding, "bull's eye" rash and flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue and joint aches. Lyme disease can be treated with oral antibiotics once diagnosed.

Avoiding Ticks

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, ticks are most active in warmer months of April-September. There are several steps you can take to avoid getting bitten by a tick:

  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. 
  • Walk in the center of trails. 
  • Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer. 

Finding and Removing Ticks

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. 
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Pay close attention to areas under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in hair. 
  • Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and gear. 
  • Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • To remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. 

For more information on ticks and tickborne diseases, please see the Centers for Disease Control website.

  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Bats & Animal Exposure for Outdoor Workers

Bats play an important role in our ecosystem. Though rare, bats, like all mammals, can be infected with rabies. As a result, proper precautions must be taken when a bat is discovered in an occupied space. For more information on bat safety, please see the Bats and Animals page.

Insect Stings and Bites

Outdoor workers are at risk of being stung by flying insects (bees, wasps, and hornets) and bitten by non-venemous and venomous spiders. While most stings cause only mild discomfort, some may result in severe allergic reactions that require immediate medical care and may cause death.

If an employee is stung by a stinging insect:

  • Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area. 
  • Never squeeze the stinger or use tweezers.
  • Wash the site with soap and water.
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling.
  • Seek medical attention and report work-related injuries to Employee Health at University Health Services.

Sting and bite prevention:

  • Avoid colognes, perfumes, perfumed soaps, and strongly-scented shampoos and deodorants. 
  • Wear clothing to cover as much of the body as possible.
  • Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around. (Swatting may cause it to sting.
  • If attacked by several stinging insects, run to get away.
  • Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine autoinjector and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy. 

Poisonous Plants

The most common hazards of poisonous plants arise from allergic contact dermatitis from the oil of ubiquitous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.

When the urushiol oil from these common plants makes contact with the skin, most people will develop a red, itchy rash with bumps or blisters. Employees can avoid exposure by taking the following precautions:

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots and gloves when exposure is likely
  • Do not burn plants such as that may be poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac as this may cause severe lung irritation
  • Clean tools and clothing which may have been exposed and become contaminated with the urushiol oil
  • Immediately wash exposed skin with soap and water to prevent an allergic reaction

If an employee develops a reaction from a work-related exposure, they should follow the work-related injury and illness reporting procedure. Over the counter treatments for allergic reactions to poisonous plants include wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream and an oral antihystamine (such as Benadryl) to relieve itching.

Sun Exposure

Working outdoors often means working in the direct sunlight. The biggest safety concern with extended sun exposure is skin cancer from the sun's strong ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Protective Clothing

  • When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor. A typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so other types of protection may be necessary as well.
  • For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A baseball cap does not protect your ears and the back of your neck. 
  • Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Sunscreen

Always use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 before working outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Most sun protection products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor.

Reapply sunscreen if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and if you are perspiring significantly.

Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

SIgns and Symptoms of Skin Cancer

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same.

A simple way to remember the signs of melanoma is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma—

  • “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  • “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
  • “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.

Working Outdoors in Hot and Cold Temperatures

For safety information about working in hot or cold environments, see Heat & Cold Stress.

Severe Weather

For safety information about what to do when severe weather hits when working outdoors, see Weather Safety.