Injuries and Illness

Summer Groundskeeping Safety, Part 4: Deadly Insects

Are bees an occupational hazard? In 2007, three workers were stung by bees while harvesting almonds in Texas; one of them was stung more than 60 times and had to be taken to the hospital. In 2008, a worker in California was stung while driving a tractor and died of an allergic reaction.

It’s not just bees—other insects can be hazardous, too. Scorpions and fire ants also inject venom that can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

Bees, wasps, and hornets are found throughout the United States. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that workers protect themselves against bee, wasp, and hornet stings by:

  • Wearing light-colored, smooth-finished clothing.
  • Avoiding perfumed soaps, shampoos, and deodorants—especially bananas and banana-scented toiletries.
  • Wearing clean clothing and bathing daily. (Sweat may anger bees.)
  • Wearing clothing that covers as much of the body as possible.
  • Avoiding flowering plants when possible.

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  • Keeping work areas clean. Social wasps thrive in places where humans discard food.
  • Remaining calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around. (Swatting at an insect may cause it to sting.)
  • If you are attacked by several stinging insects at once, run away (Bees release a chemical when they sting that may attract other bees.) Go indoors if possible. Do not jump into water. Some insects (particularly Africanized Honey Bees) are known to hover above the water, continuing to sting once you surface for air.

Fire Ants

Fire ants are found mostly in the Southeastern United States and in some areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Their mounds are distinctive and easy to identify. NIOSH recommends that workers take the following steps to prevent fire ant stings and bites:

  • Do not disturb or stand on or near ant mounds.
  • Be careful when lifting items (including animal carcasses) off the ground, as they may be covered in ants.
  • Fire ants may also be found on trees or in water, so always look over the area before starting to work.

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Scorpions are nocturnal insects and are found in the Southern and Southwestern United States. Workers in areas where scorpions are common should take these precautions, according to NIOSH:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Wear leather gloves.
  • Shake out clothing or shoes before putting them on.

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.

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