As the weather warms up, workers face many potential hazards, not all of which are directly work/task-related. In addition to traditional safety concerns on the job site, nature throws in hazards that endanger our employees. The risks from ticks (and the diseases they carry), venomous spiders and snakes exist in virtually every state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that 40 to 50 people, many of them construction workers, die each year from severe allergic reactions to these pests. The best way to avoid a dangerous encounter is through prevention, which begins with knowing what you’re up against. These creatures are more prevalent in the warmer months, and anyone that spends time outside may encounter them.

Ticks and tick-borne diseases
The type of ticks you may come across depends largely on where you live. The deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, exists mainly in the Northeast, North-Central and the Pacific Coast of the United States. The tick responsible for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is found nowhere near Colorado, rather along the Atlantic Coast and in the Southeast. Two other tick-borne diseases occur throughout the continental United States: tularemia and Q fever.

Since there are many tick-borne diseases, it’s difficult to list all the symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms include body and/or muscle aches, fever, fatigue, headache, joint pain, rash and facial paralysis. People who are infected may have only some, and most symptoms also can occur with other non-tick-related diseases. Therefore, you must know what ticks are common to your area and the specific characteristics and signs of the diseases they carry.

Venomous spiders
There are thousands of species of spiders in the United States, but only three are dangerous to humans: the black widow, brown recluse and hobo. While these spiders are spotted mainly outdoors, they also can be found indoors.

Black widows are most common in the southern and western United States but are found throughout North America. They are identifiable by a red pattern on the underside of their abdomens.
Brown recluse, or violin spiders, are found in the Midwest, southern United States and occasionally along the East Coast. They are brown with a dark-violin-shaped marking on their heads.
Found in the Pacific Northwest, hobo spiders are large and brown with yellow markings on their abdomens. They don’t climb but can run very quickly.

All of these spiders prefer secluded, dry, sheltered areas to set up their webs and will typically only bite a human if their web has been disturbed or contacted. Spider bites are painful, and because of the venom, tissue surrounding the bite can become damaged. While none of these bites are typically life-threatening, they should all be considered serious medical issues, and victims should seek professional medical attention.

Venomous snakes
Rattlesnakes are the most common venomous snake in the United States. They exist in habitats, ranging from mountains and prairies to deserts and beaches. They have the ability to strike up to one-third of their body length. Most rattlesnakes will use their tails or rattles as a warning if they feel threatened.

Copperheads are most likely to be found in forests, rocky areas, swamps or near lakes and rivers in the Eastern states but can be found as far west as Texas. Their body color varies from reddish to a golden tan with hourglass shaped bands. They have a nonaggressive temperament and will often freeze when startled. Most bites occur when a victim steps on or gets too close to one of these snakes.
Cottonmouths, also called water moccasins, are dark tan, brown or nearly black with vague black or dark brown crossbands. They scare easily but will readily defend themselves. They are found in the Southeastern states in and around wetland areas, rivers and lakes.

Coral snakes have bright bands of yellow, red and black, so people often confuse them with the nonvenomous scarlet king snake or milk snake. To tell the differences between the species, remember the phrase, “red and yellow can kill a fellow; red and black is a friend of Jack.” This highly venomous snake is very shy, preferring to hide in leaf piles or burrow into the ground in wooded, sandy or marsh areas of the Southern United States.

Keeping your employees safe from all of these dangers can be as simple as proper job site housekeeping. All these animals like to be left undisturbed in various types of piles of wood, brick, brush or debris. By keeping the job site tidy, many of these animals have no place to live. In addition, be aware of the dangerous animals that are common in your area, so your employees will know what to look out for.


KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and dkelly@intecweb.com. Joe O’Connor edited this article.