How-to: Survive the elements

Updated Jul 12, 2018

shutterstock_80404600Keep landscaping crews safe from summer dangers

It’s a jungle out there. Heat, insects and severe weather aren’t simply nuisances: They’re health hazards that can cause serious injury and even death. “Anyone in the landscape profession is at risk for every environmental emergency,” says Dr. Al Sacchetti, spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Educate yourself and your crews about common hazards so you’re better prepared for emergencies.”

Most companies keep first-aid kits on the trucks and hold weekly safety meetings on seasonal issues such as heat illness. “We share stories, read safety briefings and show graphic photos to drive home the point,” says Josh Kane, president/head designer of Kane Landscapes in Potomac Falls, Virginia. “We want our people to react instinctively to situations that put crew members at risk.”

Ongoing instruction is key. “Sometimes, safety training sounds so basic until an incident befalls you and you have to deal with injuries, lost productivity and liability,” says Kurt Thompson, irrigation director with Massey Services in Orlando. “Prevention is so much easier than dealing with complications after the fact.”

Here’s what you can do to prevent and handle common summer health risks in the field:

HEAT ILLNESSES: Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke

Hot and humid weather affects your body’s ability to cool itself. “Recognize that not all workers have the same response to heat. It’s individualized,” says Dr. Sacchetti. “You’re also at greater risk of heat injuries when you have not had time to acclimate, especially if the weather was cool then suddenly gets hot.”


  • Drink water every 15 minutes throughout the day, even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Wear hats and loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
  • Schedule strenuous jobs for early morning, and take regular breaks.
  • Get acclimated slowly, especially if there have been extreme temperature swings or you haven’t worked in the heat for a week or more.
  • Create a buddy system so team members can watch out for each other.
  • Download the free OSHA Heat Safety Tool app, which calculates the heat index (heat and humidity combined) and offers safety reminders.


Heat illnesses are a progression of worsening symptoms. You may start with leg or abdominal pain (heat cramps), then progress to extreme body temperature, heavy sweating and fatigue (heat exhaustion). “Heat stroke is the next stage and is an emergency,” says Dr. Sacchetti. “Your body cannot regulate its temperature. You’re not sweating. You’re confused.”

What to do

  • For all heat illnesses, get to a cool spot immediately, such as an air-conditioned truck. *Drink fluids such as water, juice or a sports drink.
  • Apply cool, damp cloths to the wrists, neck and ankles.
  • Call 911 if the person is not sweating or is confused, nauseated or unconscious. These are signs of heat stroke, which is life-threatening. Apply ice packs or use a hose to shower the person with cool water while waiting for help.

shutterstock_24041593INSECT STINGS AND BITES: Bees, hornets, wasps, mosquitoes and ticks

“Even if you have never had an allergic reaction to bee stings before, there’s always a first time,” says Dr. Sacchetti. In addition, bites from mosquitoes and ticks aren’t just annoying; they may carry diseases including West Nile virus, Lyme disease and many other tickborne illnesses.


  • Skip the scented body sprays and use unscented deodorants, as the scents attract insects.
  • Watch out for nests. “We teach crews to push the shovel in first when rooting around in shrubs instead of just barreling ahead,” says Thompson.
  • Wear insect repellant with 20 to 30 percent DEET to keep ticks and mosquitoes from biting.
  • Do a daily tick inspection. “They can be smaller than a sesame seed,” says Dr. Sacchetti.


Stings (bees, hornets, wasps): Local reactions include pain and itchiness. Severe allergic reactions occur in minutes and can result in death. If a crewmember has difficulty breathing, is wheezing, complains of throat swelling or breaks out in hives, call 911.

Bites (mosquitoes, ticks): Raised itchy welt or attached tick.

What to do


  • Scrape away the stinger if present, or use tweezers to remove.
  • Wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Cool the site with an ice pack to relieve swelling and pain.
  • Take an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or dab on hydrocortisone cream to relieve itchiness.
  • People with known allergies to insect stings should carry an Epi-pen.


  • If a tick is attached, use tweezers and pull slowly away, straight up and out. Skip useless home remedies for removal, such as a lit match or petroleum jelly.
  • Clean area with soap and water.
  • Watch for symptoms over the next few weeks. If a flu-like illness, joint pain or rash develops, see your doctor as soon as possible for antibiotics. Untreated illness can result in long-term health issues.

SEVERE WEATHER: Thunderstorms and tornadoes

According to the National Weather Service, no place outdoors is safe when thunderstorms are in the area. If you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to hit you. If you see green skies, large hail or hear a loud roar, a tornado is likely approaching.

Remember that a watch means weather conditions are right for a severe thunderstorm or tornado; a warning means a severe storm or tornado funnel is in your area.

What to do

Stay informed. Download a weather program with severe weather alerts such as or or NOAA on your smartphone. “Our scheduling manager keeps watch all day and informs crews of imminent storms,” says Kane.

Severe thunderstorms:

  • Go indoors. If caught outside, go to the lowest ground, but don’t lie flat. Instead, crouch down to make yourself as small as possible with minimal ground contact.
  • Don’t stand under a tree or rocky overhang.
  • Avoid lakes, ponds, pools and anything that could conduct electricity such as fences.
  • If a crewmember is struck, he does not carry a charge. Call 911 and begin CPR if needed.


  • Go indoors, avoiding windows. If caught outdoors, crouch down and protect your head with an object or your arms.
  • Get out of vehicles, as they are not a safe place because they can be easily tossed by tornadoes.

For more summer hazard information, read these fact sheets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Venomous spiders

Venomous snakes

Fire ants and scorpions


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