21.01.2016 : Bruce Campbell

Summertime and the livin' is easy

Summer is here. Hot sunny days, warm evenings, so let’s get outdoors. What could possibly go wrong?

We all love summer (well most of us anyway). After the long, dreech (that’s a particularly expressive Scottish word meaning damp, cold and generally miserable) winter months, the sun usually makes a welcome return and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Then the fun really starts.

Now you may already have guessed I’m from Scotland and contrary to popular belief we do actually have a summer – usually for a day in July or August but in leap years we sometimes get two days (this year is a leap year – hurrah!) During summer, you can normally spot us Scots in a crowd by our lobster red colouration – we are brought up to take advantage of every second of summer in order to get a tan – red is a tan, right?

Anyway, I’m now in my ninth Kiwi summer and trust me they are (so far) much, much better than those in Scotland. That said my exuberance regarding exposure to the sun has been tempered somewhat by my ‘health and safety’ persona by putting proper safeguards in place when out on site or working on a project. New Zealand and Australia have the highest melanoma incidence rates in the world (Health Protection Authority) and that’s only one of the hazards we need to guard against.

So what can we do to enjoy summer and importantly survive it?

  1. Protect yourself from the sun at all times and not just when you’re on the beach. What about if you’re working on site? Remember ‘Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap’, slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen (SPF 30+), slap on a hat and wrap on a pair of sunglasses. Ensure you also have the appropriate PPE according to site conditions.
  2. Keep hydrated. Drink plenty of water if you’re out and about. How do you know if you are dehydrated? A good guide is the colour of your urine, if it’s clear then you are probably drinking enough, if yellow you need more water intake.
  3. Remember that the inside of cars become extremely hot when parked in the summer sun, so take care not to leave flammable items inside. Imagine if you left your kids or pets in that car. Check out the ‘unconventional oven’ video.
  4. Look after each other. Your colleagues or family (especially children) may not be aware of just how long they have been exposed to the harmful rays of the sun. Seek shade if needed and take rest breaks.
  5. Learn to recognise the early symptoms of heat stress. It affects individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others.

Typical symptoms include:

  • muscle cramps
  • heat rash
  • severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
  • fainting
  • heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
  • heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness - this is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage

So, enjoy the summer months, they don’t last forever. Practice sun safety and good risk management. Hit the beach or whatever else takes your fancy in the warmer months. Just remember to take care of yourselves, your colleagues and your family and friends.

About the Author

Bruce Campbell

Senior Health & Safety (& Environment) Advisor

Bruce has over 30 years of experience in health and safety.  He is also an Environmental Health Officer and it was that profession that sparked his interest in occupational health.  Asbestos has been a frequent challenge throughout his career, and in some very diverse environments across Europe, Central America, The South Atlantic and now here in New Zealand.  His current work involves both internal services to Beca and consultancy services to a number of clients.

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