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Outdoor Safety: Bugs, Snakes and Plants

Keeping your crew safe from creepy crawlers

Bugs, snakes, rodents, and toxic plants are a year round problem when you work outdoors in Florida. Rodents and bugs can carry bacteria, parasites or viruses. Workers can be allergic to wasp and bee stings. Some snakes are deadly, and toxic plants can cause painful blisters and rashes.

4,600 workers a year make visits to the emergency room and have to take days off from work from insect bites alone. Florida is a tough place to work. We have the second highest number of insect non-fatal injuries that require days off, right behind California. Florida also comes in second to death by insect, right behind Texas. Anaphylactic shock, often associated with insect-related injuries, occurred in close to half the deaths, the BLS said.

Building and grounds cleaning, warehouse, and construction industries account for the majority of cases, and it appears that bugs like to munch on people in the 25 to 54 age range the best. Close to 94% of cases occur between April and October, with September seeing the largest number of deaths.

While most claims for insect bites and stings are minor, some claims can be expensive if the employee receives multiple bites or has allergies.

Tips to avoid outdoor dangers:

Wear light-colored, clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, and the proper personal protection equipment, such as gloves and work boots.

Before picking up an item that’s on the ground, first check underneath for ants, spiders and snakes.

Keep work areas clean of discarded food to keep from attracting rodents and insects.

Fire Ants — are aggressive and leave a painful bite.

Don’t disturb or stand near ant mounds.

Fire ants can be found on trees and in the water, as well as in areas that have been recently flooded by rain, so look carefully before starting work.

Symptoms: sharp pain and burning at the bite site, along with redness, swelling, itching and red welts with white centers. Allergic reactions include severe swelling of the face, lips or throat, breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea or vomiting.

First Aid Tips: Wash the bite area with cool water and apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and swelling.

Antihistamines such as Benadryl can be taken to help relieve itching. Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the stings to help prevent infection in stings that have been opened by scratching.

Wasps and bees — these stings are the most common to cause life threatening allergic reactions. Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen) and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy.

Routinely check the trees, ceilings of open buildings, under roof eaves and on equipment such as ladders for wasp/bee nests. They can form quickly, within a day.

Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around, swatting may cause it to sting, but if attacked by several stinging insects, run to get away. Bees release a chemical when they sting, which attracts other bees.

If being attacked by bees or wasps, don’t jump into water. They are known to hover above the water.

If an insect is inside your vehicle, stop slowly, and open all the windows.

Symptoms: sharp pain and burning at the sting site, along with redness, swelling, itching and welts. Usually, the pain and swelling recedes within several hours of being stung. Allergic reactions include severe swelling of the face, lips or throat, breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea or vomiting.

First Aid Tips: Immediately wash the sting area with soap and water. Remove the stinger with tweezers.

Apply a cold pack, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines such as Benadryl can be taken to help relieve itching.

Spiders — all spiders can leave a painful bite, but only a few are harmful to humans, such as the black widow and brown recluse, which are found in Florida. Spiders can be found everywhere, including offices, factories, warehouses, and confined spaces.

Always wear gloves and other protective clothing when picking up boxes or other objects in an open area.

Watch where you place your hands and feet when removing debris.

If possible, don’t place your fingers under debris you are moving.

Symptoms: Most spider bites are less painful than a bee sting. Pain from non-venomous spider bites typically lasts for five to 60 minutes while pain from venomous spider bites frequently lasts for longer than 24 hours.

First Aid Tips: If you suspect a spider has bitten you, try to bring it with you to the doctor so they can determine the best course of treatment based on the species. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Take over the counter pain relievers and antihistamines to relieve minor signs and spider bite symptoms.

Go to the doctor or hospital for any severe spider bite signs and symptoms, or if signs and symptoms continue to worsen for more than 24 hours. Look for redness spreading away from the bite, drainage from the bite, increase in pain, numbness/tingling, or a discoloration around the bite that looks like a halo or bull's-eye.

Snakes — can be dangerous to employees working outside, such as lawn maintenance and construction workers. 7,000–8,000 people per year receive venomous bites in the United States. The venomous snakes found in Florida are rattle snakes, including the small pygmy rattler, copperheads, and water moccasins. The later are generally found in and around water areas.

Wear boots, long pants and gloves when working outdoors.

Be aware when working in or around tall grass, piles of wood, leaves, rocks and debris.

Don’t try to handle any snake.

Symptoms: severe pain, redness, swelling and puncture marks at the wound, Nausea and vomiting, labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether), disturbed vision, increased salivation and sweating, numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs.

First Aid Tips: Don’t wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 and inform your supervisor. Try to remember the color and shape of the snake. Keep still and calm to slow the spread of venom and lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart. Don’t slash the wound with a knife and don’t suck out the venom.

Plants — the three main poisonous plants in Florida are poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Contact with the sap oil causes allergic skin reactions such as itchy rashes and blisters in 90% of people. The rash, depending upon where it occurs and how broadly it spreads, may significantly impede or prevent a person from working.

Avoid touching plants, especially vines, with bare hands, and keep arms and legs covered when doing lawn maintenance or clearing an area of plants.

Clean tools that come into contact with plants after every use with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Be sure to wear disposable gloves while doing so, as not to get infected.

If plants are suspected to be poisonous, don’t burn them. Burning these poisonous plants can be very dangerous because the allergens can be inhaled, causing lung irritation.

Symptoms: itching, swelling, red rash within a few days of contact, bumps, or blisters.

First Aid Tips: Immediately rinse skin with rubbing alcohol, specialized poison plant washes, degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water, rinsing frequently, and scrubbing under nails with a brush.

Apply a cold pack, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering. Don’t apply creams and lotions to broken skin, such as open blisters. An antihistamine such as Benadryl can be taken to help relieve itching.

In severe cases or if the rash is on the face or genitals, go to a doctor or clinic. Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if the worker is suffering a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or has had a severe reaction in the past.

Employees who work outdoors or in open warehouses encounter bugs every day. Make sure your workers are aware of the dangers of some bugs, snakes and plants. Knowing when to seek treatment can save your workers from time away from work while they deal with painful health complications.

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