In most parts of the country, employees who work outside may be exposed to snake bites. Each year, an estimated 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States, and about 5 of those people die. This can occur in any season and any time of day. In the U.S. most snakes are not venomous but there is at least one species of venomous snake in every state except Alaska. These include the rattlesnake, water moccasin, coral snake and copperhead snake.
Snake venom works in different ways. The National Institutes of Health cite the following biological mechanisms: haemorrhagins that disrupt the blood vessels, anti-clotting agents that prevent the blood from clotting, neurotoxins that cause paralysis or other damage to the nervous system, cytotoxins that cause swelling and tissue damage at the bite site, and mycotoxins that break down muscles. Because of these effects, unless treated, employees can have permanent or long-lasting injuries. Employees who are bitten should go to a clinic or hospital that has anti-venom as immediately. Trained first-aid personnel should be contacted immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to appear, do not apply a tourniquet, do not slash the wound with a knife or cut it in any way, and do not drink alcohol or take pain killers.
Employers should train employees who have the risk of snake bite. It should include how to identify venomous snakes, how to prevent snake bites, and what they should do if they see a snake or if a snake bites them. Texas Parks & Wildlife has a short article with illustrations on how to identify venomous snakes.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health offers these tips for workers:
- Do not touch or handle any snake.
- Stay away from tall grass and piles of leaves when possible.
- Avoid climbing on rocks or piles of wood where a snake may be hiding.
- Be aware that snakes tend to be most active at dawn and dusk and in warm weather.
- Wear boots and long pants when working outdoors. Even denim jeans may prevent some, although not all, bites by smaller snakes.
- Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris
Although fatalities are rare, ill-effects of snake bites are not. Both employees and employers should recognize the dangers of working in areas where snakes may be present and take all necessary precautions to stay safe.