Employees who work outdoors may be at risk for stings, bites, and illness from contact with insects. Agricultural and construction workers are especially susceptible but manufacturing employees who occasionally work outside may also come in contact with insects and have a reaction.
Flying insects such as bees, wasps, and hornets and grounded insects such as fire ants can sting. Scorpions and spider bites can be toxic and other biting insects such as mosquitos, mites, ants, lice, ticks, and fleas can cause disease. Ticks are known for transmitting Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, mosquitos for Yellow Fever, and it is suspected that, during the Middle Ages, rodent-borne fleas transmitted Bubonic Plague that killed one-third of Europe.
Most health effects of stinging or biting insects are mild. Thousands of workers are stung or bitten each year and about ten die each year. In most of these cases workers had a severe allergic reaction. Anaphylactic shock is the body’s severe allergic reaction to bite or sting and calls for immediate emergency care
Employers should train their workers about the risks of contact with insects, how to prevent stings and bites, and what to do if they occur. Here are some tips from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
- Wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing.
- Avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos, and deodorants.
- Do not wear cologne or perfume.
- Wear clean clothing and bathe daily.
- Wear clothing to cover as much of the body as possible.
- Avoid flowering plants when possible.
- Keep work areas clean. Some insects are attracted to discarded food.
- 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. Bees release a chemical when they sting, which attracts other bees. Go indoors. Shaded areas are better than open areas. Do not jump into water. Some insects (ex. Africanized honey bees) are known to hover above the water.
- If an insect is inside your vehicle, stop slowly, and open all the windows.
- Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine autoinjector (Epi-pen) and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy.
If a worker is stung by a stinging insect:
- Have someone stay with the worker to be sure that they do not have an allergic reaction.
- Wash the site with soap and water.
- Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area. Never squeeze the stinger or use tweezers. Apply ice to reduce swelling. Do not scratch the sting as this may increase swelling, itching, and risk of infection.
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety Services, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues or see past newsletters at occusafeinc.com/category/newsletter/