Outdoor workers run the risk of encountering hazardous wildlife. However, the dangers associated with insect bites and stings may be overlooked. Stings from honeybees, wasps or hornets can be painful, result in hospitalization and even be fatal in some cases. Stings from honeybees, wasps and hornets kill an average of 62 people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 80% are men. It is important to know how to identify risks and properly respond to an encounter with one of these insects.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that workers be correctly trained on the potential hazards caused by harmful insects and plants, how to avoid injuries and what first aid is needed in the event an incident occurs.
Tips for staying safe
People can reduce the likelihood of being stung by an insect by wearing light-colored, smooth-finished clothing; avoiding perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants; wearing clothing to cover as much of the body as possible; avoiding flowering plants when possible; and wearing long hair up to keep insects from becoming entangled.
Keeping work areas clean is also helpful. Wasps tend to be drawn to places where people dispose of food. Additionally, food and drinks should always be covered when not being consumed. Securely close trash can lids.
Hives and nests are commonly found in hollow trees, pipes, shrubs and hedges, abandoned tires and crates, holes in the ground, under shingles or under logs and piles of rocks. Hives and nests are also encountered in walls, attics and crawl spaces, so workers need to be careful indoors. When a hive or nest is found, it should be avoided. Do not disturb it or try to remove it. Enlist a professional pest control service to address the problem. Honeybee colonies can also be humanely relocated by trained beekeepers.
It is worth noting that most native bee species—such as bumble bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees—are not aggressive and rarely sting. However, still take care if encountering one of their nests.
If a bee, wasp or hornet flies indoors or into a vehicle, open the door or window to allow it to leave. Avoid swatting or attempting to shoo the insect away, as this may incite it to sting.
What to do if stung
If a sting occurs, it is crucial to remain calm, physically leave the area and go indoors or to a shaded area when possible. Honeybees leave stingers behind and can only sting once. Wasps and hornets don’t lose their stinger and can sting repeatedly. In the event of multiple stings, cover the face and run away.
Do not jump into water. Some insects, such as Africanized honeybees, are attracted to water and will wait for you to surface. Honeybees, wasps and hornets typically only swarm or attack in bunches when a nest or hive is disrupted or stepped on. Most stings cause only minor pain or discomfort. However, insect bites and stings are classified as injuries on the OSHA Form 300 and must be reported.
To treat minor stings, wash the area with soap and water, remove the stinger with gauze or by scraping a fingernail over the area, apply cool compresses to reduce swelling, apply cream or gel with lidocaine to help control pain or calamine lotion to help with itching and take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen and an antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to help reduce the reaction to the sting.
Individuals allergic to bee and wasp stings or a person stung multiple times may experience anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing; red, itchy hives that spread beyond the sting; swelling of the face, throat or mouth tissue; wheezing; difficulty swallowing; restlessness and anxiety; rapid pulse; or dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure. Benadryl can be administered or applied to calm anaphylaxis and is included in most first-aid kits. If these symptoms occur, call 911 immediately.
An EpiPen might also need to be used for severe symptoms. According to the CDC, “Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) and should wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace stating their allergy.” It is estimated that between 5% and 7.5% of the population is allergic.
Fortunately, honeybees, wasps and hornets are not interested in interacting with humans. Stings usually only occur when the insect has been startled. Remaining calm and knowing what to do when encountering these insects will likely result in safe work and no stings.
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