How to Protect Outdoor Workers from Summer Insects

  • Workplace Health & Safety
Man cutting tree with electric saw
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

Besides heat stress and sun exposure, summer insects are another safety hazard you must protect your outdoor workers from. 

Common summer pests include ticks, mosquitoes, and stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, and ants. 

Ticks may be carriers of Lyme disease and other bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Mosquitoes, too, can carry infections such as the West Nile virus. 

Sting bites can cause pain, swelling and mild to severe allergic reactions, which, in some cases, may even cause death. 

It is important that you take preventive steps to eliminate or minimize risk of infections through insect bites. You should also train your staff on how to protect themselves, what bite-related symptoms to watch out for and how to administer first aid if they are bitten. 

Ticks 

What are ticks?  

Ticks are small, blood-sucking insects related to spiders. They can range in size from a sesame seed to a swollen raisin, depending on the stage of their life cycle. Tick bites are usually painless. 

Where are ticks found?  

Ticks are commonly found in tall grass, areas with overgrown vegetation and wooded areas like forests. They are active from April through October. They are most active during the summer months of June through August. 

Who are at most risk?  

Workers in industries such as landscaping, construction, forestry, farming, brush clearing, park or wildlife management or any other outdoor work are a greater risk for tick bites. 

What are the symptoms of tick-related infections?  

Symptoms may appear within days or weeks after the tick bite. Common symptoms include: 

  • Fever, headache, muscle pain, joint pains, exhaustion 
  • Skin rash 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • In rare cases, paralysis. The paralysis typically starts in the feet and slowly spreads to the upper body. 

What steps can I take to prevent tick bites?  

Do a risk assessment of your work site. If possible, cut back tall grass and remove leaf litter. It is advised that outdoor workers: 

  • Wear dark-coloured clothing and long-sleeved shirts. The pants should be tucked into boots or socks. Put on a hat if possible. 
  • Take a shower within two hours of working outdoors to wash away loose ticks 
  • Avoid resting or walking in wooded areas 
  • Use insect repellents containing 20-30% DEET or Icaridin to use on skin and clothing. 
  • Check their body and clothes for ticks. They’re commonly found on the back, arms, underarms, legs, thighs, groin, behind the ears, and above the hairline. 
  • Dry work clothes in a hot dryer to ensure any undetected ticks are killed. 
  • Remove any tick found immediately. Place it in a sealed container and send it to their local health unit to be tested for Lyme disease. 

Mosquitoes  

Mosquitoes can be carriers of the West Nile virus. However, serious illness due to West Nile virus is rare. Most infections are mild. Sometimes people may experience symptoms such as fever, rash, headache. The best prevention in this case is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. 

  • Use insect repellent and cover yourself up when outdoors during hours when mosquitoes are most active (twilight and dawn) 
  • Eliminate mosquito breeding sites from your work area by regularly removing stagnant water. 

Stinging insects 

What are stinging insects?  

Stinging insects have a venomous stinger on their body that they use to defend themselves when they feel threatened. These include ants, wasps, honeybees, bumble bees, hornets, and yellow jackets. 

Most stings only cause temporary pain and welts. But some may lead to mild, severe, and even life-threatening, reactions, especially if you have allergies. 

Some insects may contain more toxic venom than others. Though most deaths are due to severe allergic reactions, at times they may be caused by direct toxicity of the venom. 

Where do stinging insects commonly nest?  

Common nesting spots include: 

  • Tree branches, bushes, hedges, under rocks and shrubs 
  • Inside rodent burrows, hollow trees, holes in walls, attics 
  • In crates, boxes, rubber tires, abandoned vehicles 

What to do in case of a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting?  

Some people may experience a mild allergic reaction (swelling in a larger area, hives), which may last a few days. In rare cases, those stung may suffer a severe allergic reaction and go into anaphylactic shock. 

Signs of anaphylaxis can show up immediately or within 30 minutes. These include: 

  • Swollen eyes and eyelids. 
  • Swelling of the tongue. 
  • Itching, swelling, hives in other areas besides the sting site. 
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, tightness in the chest. 
  • Sharp drop in blood pressure or dizziness. 
  • Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. 

If your employee begins to present symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, you must take immediate action.  

  1. Keep them from standing or walking. 
  2. Administer an adrenaline injector (or EpiPen) if they carry one. 
  3. Phone their emergency contact. 
  4. Get immediate medical attention or call 911. 

What preventive steps are recommended for insect bites?  

Employers should: 

  • Conduct a risk assessment of the work site. Check for beehives or nests. If you find one, do not try to remove it yourself. Call pest control professionals instead. 
  • Keep holes and entry spaces in your building plugged and install screens on ventilation openings. 
  • Train your staff in emergency first aid, inform them of the symptoms of a severe reaction, and how to use self-injectable epinephrine. 

Employees should: 

  • Inform their employer if they are allergic to stings. Also, carry their self-injectable epinephrine and a cell phone with them while working outdoors. 
  • Keep an eye out when using power tools such as chainsaws and lawnmowers. These tools may alarm insects or cause them to swarm. 

If stinging insects appear at your worksite: 

  • Don’t swat at them or make fast movements. Most bees and wasps don’t attack unless they are startled. Just wait for them to fly away. If an insect buzzes close to you, gently blow away the insect. If you must, walk away slowly. If you chance upon a nest, move away. 
  • If you have disturbed a nest, shield your face with your hands and run at once. Take shelter in a vehicle or building. 

If stinging insects are common at your worksite: 

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and tuck your pant into your boots or closed-toes shoes. Tuck your shirt sleeves into your gloves. 
  • Tie up long hair to prevent bees or wasps from becoming entangled in your hair. 
  • Put on a bee-keepers style hat with netting to protect your head, neck, and shoulders. 
  • Wear light-coloured clothes, such as beige or blue. This may reduce your chances of getting stung. Brightly coloured, black, or patterned clothes are to be avoided. 
  • Avoid wearing perfumes, colognes, and using scented soaps, as such fragrances may be attractive to insects. 
  • If a bee or wasp gets into your vehicle, stop, and roll down the windows. If you are comfortable doing so, cover the insect with a thick cloth and release it outside your vehicle. 

What to do if a worker gets stung?  

  • Call emergency medical services right away if the sting is near the eyes, nose, or throat. 
  • Have a co-worker monitor them to ensure they don’t have an allergic reaction. 
  • Clean the sting site with soap and water. 
  • Unlike wasps and hornets that can sting repeatedly, bees can sting only once. They leave the stinger and the venom sac behind. The sting should be removed immediately as the venom can continue to be injected for up to a minute after the bee sting. 
  • Take out the sting by scraping with a fingernail or a credit card. Do not squeeze the venom sac as that would only release more venom. Tweezers can be used if just the sting is stuck in the skin. 
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling. 
  • Avoid scratching the sting site as this can worsen the swelling and itching. It also increases risk of infection. 
  • If you see signs of an allergic reaction, even if you are doubtful, call emergency medical services immediately. 

Do you need help developing health and safety policies for your business?  

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation. To learn more about how our services can help your business grow, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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