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Springtime Biological Hazards in the Workplace

By Terry Dussault, CEO of Yellowknife Safety

In today’s workplace, hazards come in various forms, including those from the natural world. From buzzing bees and lurking spiders to innocuous-looking plants. The risk of insect stings, spider bites, poisonous plants, and venomous snakes is increased when workers are performing their jobs outside. This blog article covers some common workplace wilderness hazards, their potential impacts on workers' health and safety, as well as strategies to prevent exposure to injuries.

1. Buzzing Hazards: Stinging Insects

Stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are abundant in many outdoor workplaces, including construction sites, agricultural fields, and landscaping areas. While these insects play crucial roles in pollination and ecosystem balance, their stings can cause painful reactions and, in some cases, severe allergic responses. It's essential for workers to recognize the signs of stinging insect nests or hives and take precautions to avoid disturbing them. Proper protective clothing, insect repellents, and awareness of one's surroundings can significantly reduce the risk of stings and related injuries in the workplace.

Stinging insect activity begins in spring as the weather warms and queen wasps begin searching for a place to nest and lay eggs. Stinging insects are usually more aggressive in the fall when they tend to be hungry and most protective of the queen.

2. Creepy Crawlers: Spiders at Work

Spiders, with their eight legs and often menacing appearance, can evoke fear and apprehension among workers, particularly in environments where they are prevalent, such as warehouses, storage facilities, and outdoor work areas. While most spiders are harmless to humans, some species like the Black Widow or Brown Recluse possess venomous bites that can cause significant health issues. Identifying common spider species found in the workplace, understanding their behavior, and implementing pest control measures are essential steps in mitigating the risk of spider bites. Regular inspections, maintaining cleanliness, and sealing entry points can help prevent spider infestations and ensure a safer work environment for all employees.

During work at a remote construction site in California a project biologist is responsible for protecting a variety of critters and prepares to relocate a Tarentula Spider. 

3. Deceptive Foliage: Poisonous Plants

In many outdoor workplaces, employees may encounter poisonous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, which contain urushiol, a toxic resin that can cause allergic dermatitis upon contact with the skin. The characteristic "leaves of three, let it be" serves as a useful mnemonic for identifying these hazardous plants and avoiding inadvertent exposure. Training employees on recognizing and avoiding contact with poisonous plants, providing appropriate personal protective equipment, and implementing effective vegetation management practices are crucial for minimizing the risk of skin rashes and allergic reactions in the workplace. Skin reactions are reported to be very painful. Exposure often requires multiple weeks before workers make a full recovery.

A construction worker missed 45 days of work due to an initial exposure and a subsequent one caused by reusing his contaminated gloves. Secondary exposures can be prevented by discarding clothing and decontaminating tools and equipment promptly.

4. Stealthy Predators: Venomous Snakes

For workers in outdoor settings, particularly in rural or wooded areas, encounters with venomous snakes pose a significant hazard. Species such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are capable of delivering venomous bites that can lead to tissue damage, systemic effects, and, in rare cases, fatalities if left untreated.

Educating employees about the identification and behavior of venomous snakes, implementing snakebite prevention strategies such as wearing protective footwear or chaps and using caution in high-risk areas, and providing training on first aid and emergency response protocols are essential for reducing the risk of snakebite incidents in the workplace. If a rattlesnake’s presence is concerning, contact a County Wildlife Professional who specializes in humane wildlife removal and have the expertise to relocate the snake safely and responsibly. Remember, snakes are not out to harm us, and their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

A worker identified a venomous rattlesnake, which was safely caught and relocated by a wildlife professional.

Awareness, preparation, and proactive measures are key factors to ensuring employee safety and well-being from springtime biological hazards, where stinging insects, spiders, poisonous plants, and venomous snakes lurk. As employers, we can mitigate the risks by teaching workers about these hazards, providing appropriate training and personal protective equipment, implementing pest control and vegetation management practices, and encouraging a culture of safety.


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