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Home » Workplaces » Protection for Outdoor Workers
  Protection for Outdoor Workers

Lyme disease and West Nile virus

Outdoor workers are at higher risk of being exposed to Lyme disease or West Nile virus, and so need to take special precautions when working outside.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Blacklegged ticks are found throughout Ontario, particularly in areas where there is tall grass or brush. It is now confirmed that Eastern Ontario, especially along the St. Lawrence River, is a high-risk area when it comes to the presence of blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can cause a rash that looks like a red bull's eye, as well as flu-like symptoms. Left untreated, it can affect the heart, nervous system or joints. However, if it’s caught early Lyme disease can generally be treated successfully.

West Nile virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and can cause illness ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe neurological problems. 

To help prevent against Lyme disease and West Nile virus:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothing and on all exposed skin. Keep away from eyes and mouth.
  • When possible, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks to protect yourself from mosquito and tick bites. Light-coloured clothing is best.
  • Tuck pants into socks, or wear high boots and tape to seal ends of pants.
  • When working near standing water or in swampy, wooded areas where mosquitoes tend to be present, wear a special mesh suit with elasticized cuffs and attached hoods, and a mosquito net over a hat or cap to protect the head, face and neck.
  • Try to work in cooler conditions, when there is brisk air movement or when the sunlight is stronger. Mosquitoes are less active in these conditions.
  • If possible, stay indoors at dawn and dusk and in the early evening hours, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Examine your body for ticks at the end of the day, especially if you were in an area where there’s tall grass or shrubs, or where ticks are known to live. Showering after can also help remove ticks that have not yet attached.
  • If you notice a tick has attached to you or a colleague, remove it with tweezers and clean and disinfect the site of the bite. Contact your healthcare provider if you believe the tick was attached for more than 24 hours or if you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease, including a rash that looks like a red bull's eye and flu-like symptoms.

Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers

A national survey found that only 23% of outdoor workers report wearing sunscreen on their face (Canadian Journal of Public Health). What the other 77% of outdoor workers may not realize is that while some effects of sunlight are visible within a few hours, others may only appear years down the road – and may be much more serious.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the risk of skin cancer is higher for people who work in the sun for long periods of time. Learn to protect yourself, your colleagues, and your employees.

The Workers
Outdoor workers are likely to work during the times when the sun is strongest: between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Jobs such as farm work, landscaping, recreational field and construction work are only a few examples of the thousands of Canadian jobs that require workers to spend hours in direct sunlight. In addition, one third of Canadian youth have outdoor jobs.

The Risks
The risks of overexposure to the sun are multiple. People that work outdoors are at greater risk of developing skin cancer, especially those with light-coloured skin, eyes and hair, or who had severe sunburns as a child. Most skin cancers start in areas that are exposed most often to the sun – the head, face, neck, hands and arms. The sun has also been linked to the formation of cataracts, retina damage and skin cancer around the eyes.
The Protection
Even outdoor workers that must spend a lot of their work hours in the direct sunlight can protect themselves from the effects of the sun by following these simple steps:

  • Try to limit the amount of time in the sun between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Seek shade (from buildings, trees, canopies, etc.) as much as possible, especially during lunch and coffee breaks.
  • Wear sunglasses that have as close to 100% protection against UVA and UVB rays as you can find. Those that have even shading, medium to dark lenses and that wrap around the face are preferable.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat or attach a back flap to a construction helmet to cover the back of the neck.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. Fabrics that don't let light through work best. Make sure clothing is loose and comfortable.
  • Apply lip balm with SPF 30.
  • Apply a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to all exposed areas, especially your neck, ears, forehead, nose and hands.
  • Reapply sunscreen at midday or more often if you're sweating.

The Sun

Health Canada: West Nile Virus

Health Canada: Insect Repellents

Health Canada: Sunglasses

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: Let's Target Lyme!

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: Ticks and Lyme Disease

PHAC: West Nile Virus - Protect Yourself!

West Nile virus - How to protect yourself.


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