Spring Time Hazards: Be Careful Out There!

Gene Hoyt, MD

It’s springtime! It’s sunny, warm and winter is really gone. It’s time to be outside and there are so many jobs that need to be done. What do you want to do first?

Make sure you and your equipment are ready to start. I know you’ve lost your summer tan and feel pale but, make sure you are properly dressed while working outside. Wear appropriate clothing and not your shorts or bathing suit. Long pants and long sleeved shirts help to protect you from insect bites, sunburns, contact allergies and flying debris. Look at all the dust you’ve caused and listen to you snort and sneeze! Remember Oklahoma is an allergy hotspot. Tree and grass pollen, as well as mold, can make your outdoor adventure into an uncomfortable experience.  If you have seasonal allergies, you should consider taking your allergy medicine before you expose yourself to the great outdoors. Face masks and respirators may also be helpful. When you finish don’t sit around in dirty clothes admiring your work: Take a shower and change clothes to decrease your allergy exposure.  

You are ready to go. Are your machines ready? Check the oil and other fluids. If you need to change the oil or other petroleum based fluids you must safely dispose of the used fluids. Recycle them don’t just drain oils out on to the dirt. Don’t put petroleum fluids down the drain or into storm drains or septic systems. Many of these fluids are highly flammable. Oil related fluids, batteries and other machine related refuse can be taken to many auto supply stores for recycling. While you are in the garage or shop consider the hazards to your family and pets that have been stored over the winter and may also be beyond a useful date:  weed killers, pesticides, and household chemicals. Now you are really ready to get started: gloves, hats and eye protection and good common sense.

Grass is growing. Maybe you need to mow and clean your yard. Be careful! Emergency rooms across the country see hundreds of thousands of people each year who are injured from flying debris from lawn mowers, trimmers, and power saws. Some of the injured are mere onlookers. Always make certain to protect and watch out for children, pets and others who might be struck by flying debris. Machines run hot; burns are a common use injury.  Hot also reminds us that hard work can make you sweat. Dehydration can cause you serious injury. Always have plenty of non-alcoholic fluid available to drink.

“Oh, my aching back.”  Many of us are weekend warriors. There is much to be done and little time to complete the job. We start out bright eyed with shovels and hoes and end up with aches and pains. Be careful not to overdo your outdoor tasks. Use common sense to decrease the risk of muscle injury and strains. Ice to swollen injuries and heat to aches and pains often help as well as pills and potions.

Use of fertilizers, lawn granules, and various sprays are not without risks to you, your family and pets.  Chemical dust can be inspired into the lungs. Many chemicals can be absorbed through your skin causing you serious injury. Remember gloves and long sleeved shirts. Always wash your hands before eating or drinking after any chemical use.

“Down and dirty” in the garden.  Always, always wear your gloves. I know you watch carefully for what might cut you, stick you or bite you. That’s the point (good pun). But, you simply can’t see the many small hazards that exist in the dirt: sticks, shards of metal and glass or biting bugs. Poisonous bugs such as spiders or poisonous snakes may also infest your garden. Poison ivy grows throughout Oklahoma. It may just be in your garden.

“Don’t forget to clean out the gutters.” They are full of dirt, last year’s leaves and may be the home of biting bugs such as wasps and hornets. When you get the ladder also get someone to come with you to watch you from the ground while you are on the ladder or on roof. Be mindful of the wind which could blow you ladder down. Be sure the ladder fits you weight wise and that it fits the job. Is it tall enough to do the job you have planned? Most ladder accidents occur from imbalance, from people reaching too high or too far laterally for the ladder.

In Oklahoma, the greatest of our spring risks is the weather. As I write this article the winds are blowing 40 MPH. Warnings are myriad: tornado, severe thunderstorms, hail, and even frost abound. May is potentially our most dangerous weather month. Be prepared! If you have a cellar or safe room make certain it is accessible. Move whatever obstructs the door for fast access. Notify Emergency Management of your shelter location so they are aware of where you are if your area is struck by a severe storm (http://stillwater.org). If you do not have a hidey hole, talk to neighbors, friends or landlords about available safe shelters.

Enjoy the springtime, it will be summer soon enough.