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Work Safely Around Bees and Other Stinging Insects
A swarm of bees that attacked a construction crew in southern California last month, leaving one worker dead and two others hospitalized, is an example of how quickly a routine work day can turn tragic: Workers grading a site for a parking lot in the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside struck an underground sprinkler control vault that housed a beehive. A cloud of angry insects rose en masse, enveloping one worker and chasing those attempting to help him back to their cars. Work was halted until the bees were removed.
“Deaths caused by bees and other stinging insects are rare, but getting stung is not. Anyone who works outside is at increased risk, including our members on construction sites,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “A few weeks before this incident in California, a construction worker near Phoenix, Arizona was hospitalized after being stung more than 100 times.”
What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?
- Difficulty breathing
- Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting
- Swelling of the face, throat or mouth tissue
- Wheezing or difficulty swallowing
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) calms anaphylaxis. It should be included in all first-aid kits.
Administer this medication at the first sign of anaphylaxis and call 911 immediately for further instructions.
These incidents underscore the importance of educating workers about stinging insects. Bees, hornets and wasps are found throughout the United States and Canada. Workers can reduce their chances for getting stung by knowing where these insects are likely to nest and either avoiding these areas or, if that’s not possible, alerting their supervisor so the nest can be safely removed by a professional pest control service. OSHA requires employers to train workers on the potential hazards caused by harmful insects and plants, including how to avoid injury and what first aid is needed if an incident does occur.
If workers do get stung, it’s important that they have access to appropriate first aid. Stings generally cause only minor discomfort. However, on occasion they can lead to a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that requires emergency care and can be deadly. Stings and bites that require medical care beyond first aid must be recorded on the OSHA 300 log.
Hives and Nests Are Often Found:
- Inside hollow trees, walls and attics (Entrance is usually a very small hole.)
- Inside pipes or under shingles
- In shrubs and hedges
- In abandoned tires and crates
- Under logs and piles of rocks
- Inside holes in the ground
Reduce Your Likelihood For Getting Stung:
- Do not use scented deodorant, cologne or perfume. (Fragrances attract insects.)
- Wear light-colored clothing. (Bright colors and patterns attract insects.)
- Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants.
- Tie back long hair to keep stinging insects from getting entangled.
- If you must work near bees and other stinging insects, consider wearing a bee-keepers style hat with netting to cover your head, neck and shoulders.
If an insect is inside your vehicle, stop slowly and open all the windows.
- Never attempt to remove a hive or nest. Call a professional pest control service.
What Else Can You Do?
- Empty trash cans regularly, keep them covered and don’t eat near them.
- Store your lunch in a lunchbox and your drink in a container with a lid.
If You Are Stung:
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area. (Bees leave stingers. Wasps and hornets do not and can sting repeatedly.)
- Apply a cool compress to reduce swelling.
- Apply cream or gel with lidocaine to help control pain and calamine lotion to help with itching.
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen and an antihistamine like Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) to help reduce your reaction to the sting.
If You Know You Are Allergic:
- Carry an epinephrine autoinjector at all times.
- Wear medical ID jewelry stating your allergy.
- Alert your employer and your co-workers.
Fortunately, bees and other stinging insects are usually not interested in attacking anyone unless they have been startled, so never swat at them or wave your arms. Let them fly away on their own. If you must walk, do so slowly. The only exception is if you have disturbed the nest and you hear lots of buzzing. In that case, cover your face with your hands and run.
Keeping the peace with bees and other stinging insects is possible and most of the time is not difficult. These bugs are not looking for a fight. When you know what to do and you don’t panic, chances are they will leave you alone.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]