Protecting Construction Workers from Bites and Stings

You can’t stop bees, wasps and spiders from entering a jobsite, but you can take steps to avoid unfortunate encounters.

Construction workers, who do much of their work outside, are used to being exposed to the elements — the sun, the rain, the heat, the cold. But occasionally the great outdoors can serve up other surprises, such as a venomous spider or biting or stinging insect.

The effects of a bite or sting can range from mild discomfort to a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock.

It’s up to employers to educate employees about the risks they may face and what they should do if they’re bitten or stung. Some of the risks vary based on geography. For instance, black widow spiders are most common in the southern and western areas of the United States — and by the way, they like hanging out in portable toilets, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The brown recluse spider, another venomous species, is most common in the Midwestern and southern states. Africanized honey bees, aka killer bees, are found in the southern states.

Consider encouraging employees to keep their tetanus booster shots current (shots are needed every 10 years) as spider bites can become infected with tetanus spores, according to NIOSH.[3]

5 ways to reduce the risk

Biting and stinging creatures go where they want, but you can discourage them from entering a jobsite, and help protect workers when they do, by taking these precautions.

  1. Keep the jobsite clean. Wasps are attracted to discarded food, so make sure all leftovers go in the garbage, and keep it covered. Remove and reduce debris and rubble piles when possible to help keep venomous spiders away.
  2. Ask workers to cover up. Workers should cover as much of the body as feasible. Socks, shirts (preferably long-sleeved) and long pants offer some protection against spider bites. Light-colored clothing — nothing bright — is the best choice to avoid attracting insects.
  3. Suggest daily showers — but not scents. Cologne, perfumed soaps and shampoos and scented deodorant can all attract insects. That said, employees should bathe daily, since sweat may anger bees, according to NIOSH. Unscented deodorant is also a good idea.
  4. Eliminate nests and hives. This tip comes from the Hanover Insurance Group. Insects are most likely to sting if their homes are disturbed, so inspect the work area and have any hives or nests destroyed by professionals.
  5. Identify allergies. Ask employees to inform you about potential allergies. According to NIOSH, workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should consider carrying an epinephrine autoinjector. Those who think they may be allergic should consider going to their doctor or an allergist for testing.

Teach employees to stay still if they’re being bothered by a single flying insect. (Swatting it may irritate it and cause it to sting.) If a worker is attacked by multiple flying insects, he or she should run to get away from them and try to get indoors, or, if that’s not possible, to a shaded area. They should not try to jump into nearby water.

Rub off ants and spiders briskly, as they will attach to the skin with their jaws.

What to do if bitten or stung

For a sting, scrape or brush off the stinger with a straight-edged object, such as a credit card or the back of a knife. A fingernail will do in a pinch, but don’t use tweezers. Wash the area with soap and water. Ice can help with the pain and swelling. Ibuprofen and an over-the-counter antihistamine can also help.

Most reactions to a single bite or sting are mild, causing little more than an annoying itch or stinging sensation and swelling that disappears within a day or so. But call 911 if the worker experiences trouble breathing, swelling of the lips or throat, faintness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, hives, nausea, stomach cramps or vomiting. Start CPR if the person shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.

A sting anywhere in the mouth warrants immediate medical attention.