Hazards with Four, Six, and Eight Legs
When talking about workplace safety, most people focus on the tasks that are being performed and the hazards that are associated with those tasks — or about hazards that are associated with the setting.
Nature can present additional hazards. One that’s obvious is weather and weather extremes. But another that many employers and employees fail to consider involves the types of animals that may be encountered on jobsites. In this article, we’ll focus on hazards associated with animals that bite. While the types of animals involved vary quite a bit, the best approach in all cases is preventing the hazard so bites don’t occur.
Hazards with four legs
We refer to them as “man’s best friend,” but an unfamiliar dog on a jobsite can be a ticket to the emergency room. Whether it’s a stray that wanders onto the jobsite or a pet someone brings to the site, a dog that’s either fearful or aggressive may respond by biting. And don’t be fooled — the size of the canine is no indicator of how painful the bite can be.
While the best approach is avoiding an unfamiliar dog entirely, the dog may have other ideas and may approach workers on a site. That’s when it becomes important to watch for signs that the dog may be aggressive. A stiff tail pointed skyward and ears pulled back are signs that the dog is tense and ready to react to the slightest provocation. A tail tucked between the legs is usually a sign of fear. Either signal is a warning. If you approach a dog in either of those situations, it’s likely to lunge at you to protect itself.
You don’t want to yell at or confront the dog. Most of all, you don’t want to run. Many dogs react to motion as a challenge. Instead, stand upright and back away slowly. If the dog appears to be ready to attack, try to put an object such as a tool belt, a clipboard, or a wooden stick in front of you — something the dog can grab and hold on to if it lunges toward you.
If you are bitten, clean the wound with soap and water immediately and seek medical attention, because bite wounds can easily become infected. If the dog’s owner is available, get contact information and ask for proof of a valid rabies vaccination. If the owner isn’t around, don’t try to trap the dog. Call the local police or animal control office.
Hazards with six legs
Insects make up the biggest share of the animal kingdom, and several types of common insects can bite or sting workers, leading to infections or diseases.
Bees, wasps, and hornets are common pests on worksites. They quickly build nests in out-of-the-way places, such as under roof eaves or alongside equipment, and when a worker enters the immediate area, they may respond by defending their homes. For most people, a sting involves pain and swelling, but someone with an allergy may suffer a severe reaction.
Workers who may be around bees and similar insects should avoid soaps, shampoos, or deodorants that have strong perfumes. Clean, light-colored clothing can also help. If a bee or wasp appears nearby, the best approach is to remain calm and move away. Trying to swat it may lead to a sting or the release of chemicals that draw more bees. And if a bee or wasp appears in your car or truck, don’t panic. Bring the vehicle to a stop and open the windows. Even if you do get stung, a minor sting is better than inadvertently causing a major accident.
Mosquitoes are generally seen as annoying, but it’s important to remember that they can also spread diseases. Mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus in much of the U.S. In addition, a species of mosquito that’s common to the southern U.S. and parts of the southern Midwest has been implicated in the Zika virus, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women.
Workers can reduce mosquito breeding by preventing and eliminating standing water on jobsites. They can minimize the chances that they’ll be bitten by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and using insect repellent on their clothing and skin.
Ticks are common in during warmer weather wooded areas, as well as in brush and tall grasses. What makes these bloodsucking insects a concern is that they carry a number of particularly dangerous diseases, including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. If you’re working in an area that’s likely to be infested, wear a hat or helmet, as well long-sleeved light-colored clothing and long pants. Insect repellents containing DEET or Permethrin may reduce the chance of a tick bite when used properly. Be sure to check your hair and skin every day. Remove any ticks you find with tweezers,
Hazards with eight legs
Spiders are all around us, and most of them are harmless. In fact, they’re beneficial animals, because they keep the insect population under control. But some species of spiders can cause painful bites to unwary workers.
The Black Widow and Brown Recluse are venomous spiders that live in the U.S. Neither is aggressive, so workers are most likely to be bitten when they inadvertently come in contact with them. Black widows tend to be found in warmer areas, often in woodpiles, areas with debris, and outdoor toilets (the flies draw them). Their bites normally include two puncture marks. Brown recluse spiders hide under woodpiles, logs, or structures that allow them to stay dry. Indoors, they prefer dark, quiet places such as attics and closets. Their bites usually lead to a white blister.
Because the bites can become infected or cause other problems, you should obtain medical attention if you believe you’ve been bitten. To prevent contact, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, gloves, and other protective gear when working in areas where the spiders may be found. It’s also a good idea to shake out clothes, shoes, towels, and other items before wearing or using them.
Hazards with no legs
Finally, workers in outdoor settings may encounter one of America’s four species of venomous snakes. Rattlesnakes are typically found in open areas, often sunning themselves on large rocks or roads. Copperheads tend to be found in and around wet areas, or in forests, and tend to bite only when someone steps near them. Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are usually in or around the water and will bite when they feel that are in danger. Finally, coral snakes, found in warm areas, typically hide in holes or leaf piles.
When working in areas that may contain snakes, worker should wear long pants and work boots. If you’ll be moving debris or reaching into wood or brush piles, leather gloves will offer some protection. Should a snake bite you, call 911 or obtain medical attention immediately. It’s important to be able to identify the snake, so the medical personnel can provide the proper treatment. If you stay calm (ideally, lying down with the site of the bite below the level of your heart), you can slow the spread of the venom. Snakebites are rarely fatal when prompt treatment is received.