Wildlife Encounters: How to deal with nature safely on the job site

Shutterstock / Zulfikar Luthfi
Shutterstock / Zulfikar Luthfi
Published On
Sep 15, 2022

Besides familiar hazards and risks associated with working on or near electricity, inside and outside electrical workers are at risk of encountering nontraditional dangers, including venomous snakes, spiders and vermin. It is imperative to understand how to identify these hazards and what to do in the event of an encounter.

Snakes

Workers—inside and outside—can potentially come across venomous snakes throughout the United States. These include rattlesnakes, cottonmouths or water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. This should be obvious, but never attempt to touch or handle a snake. Its striking distance is about half the length of its body.

Avoid snake bites by watching for snakes sunning on fallen trees, tree limbs or other debris; staying away from tall grass and piles of leaves; avoiding climbing on rocks or piles of wood; wearing boots and long pants when working outdoors; and wearing leather gloves when handling brush or debris.

Venomous snake bite symptoms include a pair of puncture marks at the wound, redness and swelling around the bite, severe pain at the site of the bite, nausea and vomiting, disturbed vision, increased salivation and sweating, numbness or tingling around the face or limbs and labored breathing. In extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether.

If a bite occurs, seek medical attention immediately. If that isn’t possible, the victim should lay or sit down with the bite below the heart level. Wash it with soap and water and cover it with a clean, dry dressing. Never apply a tourniquet, slash the wound with a knife, suck out the venom, apply ice or immerse the wound in water.

Spiders

Venomous spiders pose a risk on and off the job. Although many spiders can be venomous, three types in particular are of the most concern: the black widow, brown recluse and hobo spider. Black widow spiders are found throughout North America, but are most common in the Southern and Western United States. They are dark brown or shiny black, and can be identified by the distinctive red hourglass shape on the underside of their abdomen.

The brown recluse, or violin spider, is commonly found in the Midwest and Southern parts of the United States. It is brown with a characteristic dark violin-shaped marking on its head and has six equal-sized eyes.

The hobo spider is found throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is large and brown with a distinct pattern of yellow markings on its abdomen.

To avoid a venomous spider, always inspect or shake out any clothing, shoes, towels or equipment before use. Take care when handling materials shipped from locations where these species are commonly found. For example, isolated cases of brown recluse spider bites occurred in the Northeast due to their presence in shipped materials. Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, hat, gloves and boots when handling stacked or undisturbed piles of materials.

Minimize empty spaces between stacked materials. Remove and reduce debris and rubble from outdoor work areas, trim or eliminate tall grasses from around outdoor work areas, and store apparel and outdoor equipment in tightly closed plastic bags.

Spider bite symptoms vary from mild to severe. Although extremely rare, death may occur in the most severe cases. Symptoms can include itching or rash, pain radiating from the site of the bite, muscle pain or cramping, reddish to purplish skin, blisters, increased sweating, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea and vomiting, fever, chills, anxiety or restlessness and high blood pressure.

If a spider bite occurs, stay calm. Identify the type of spider, if possible, because it can aid in medical treatment. Additionally, wash the bite area with soap and water, apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the bite area to reduce swelling, elevate the area if possible, and seek professional medical attention.

Vermin

Vermin are commonly encountered indoors and outside. They are pest/nuisance species that include types of mice, rats, birds, insects, ticks and other animals that can spread disease. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “Vermin Control Guide” states, “Workers at outdoor worksites, as well as in enclosed spaces, have the potential for exposure to vermin. Birds and rodents can transmit disease directly, as well as through their urine or feces.”

While vermin often cannot be completely eradicated, employers should have a written program in place for dealing with them. When working in areas with vermin, the environment should be cleaned, and appropriate clothing and PPE should be worn, handled and laundered in accordance with company policies.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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