Over the summer, ants, bees and mosquitos can be unwelcome guests at the family barbeque or picnic. But for America’s workers, insects can be more than a nuisance, they can be dangerous.

Outdoor workers are at risk of being stung by flying insects (bees, wasps, and hornets) and bites from aggressive species like fire ants. While most stings and bites cause only mild discomfort, some may result in severe allergic reactions that require immediate medical care and may cause death.

Outdoor workers may also be exposed to vector-borne diseases spread from the bites of infected ticks and mosquitoes which carry bacteria, parasites or viruses including Lyme disease and West Nile virus infection.

To give you a sense of the potential for risk, consider this, according to a study published by the Southern Medical Journal in 2020, an average of 1.2 million Americans need emergency treatment for bug bites and stings.

Insect risk can be avoided of the summer, it just takes a little planning and some extra awareness when working outside.

flying insect stings

Flying Insects

If you want to protect your employees from stinging insects, encourage them to do the following: 

  1. Wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing.
  2. Wear clothing to cover as much of the body as possible.
  3. Avoid flowering plants when possible.
  4. Keep work areas clean. Some insects are attracted to discarded food.
  5. Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around, swatting may cause it to sting.
  6. If attacked by several stinging insects, run to get away. Bees release a chemical when they sting, which attracts other bees.
  7. Do not jump into water. Some insects are known to hover above the water.
  8. If an insect is inside your vehicle, stop slowly, and open all the windows.
  9. Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine autoinjector and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy.

If an employee is stung by a stinging insect:

  1. Have someone stay with the worker to be sure that they do not have an allergic reaction.
  2. Wash the site with soap and water.
  3. Don’t use tweezers. Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area.
  4. Apply ice to reduce swelling.
  5. Do not scratch the sting as this may increase swelling, itching, and risk of infection.

Seek immediate medical attention if swelling moves to other parts of your body or if you experience other symptoms including difficulty breathing, you become dizzy, nauseous or develop hives.

Fire Ants

Fire ants bite and sting. They are aggressive when stinging and inject venom, which causes a burning sensation. Red bumps form at the sting, and within a day or two they become white fluid-filled pustules. They aren’t going away either. The USDA has indicated that there is a fire ant infestation across the southeastern U.S. and potential for infestation as far north as Oregon

If you want to protect your employees from stinging insects, encourage them to do the following:

  1. Wear insect repellent on your exposed skin or clothes.
  2. Do not disturb ant mounds.
  3. Be careful when lifting items (including animal carcasses) off the ground, as they may be covered in ants.
  4. Fire ant colonies or nests may be found on trees and in water, so always look over the area before starting to work.
  5. Tuck pants into socks or boots as this will help reduce the ability for fire ants to reach the skin.
  6. Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine autoinjector and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy.

If an employee is stung by a stinging insect:

  1. Rub off ants briskly, as they will attach to the skin with their jaws.
  2. Antihistamines may help and wash your skin with soap and cold water.
  3. Seek immediate medical attention if a sting causes severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, or slurred speech.
fire ant bites stings

Present and Potential Ranges of Imported Fire Ant Infestation

fire ant map
tick bites

Ticks & Mosquitos

Ticks are found in wooded areas, high grass, or leaf litter. They are most active during the spring, summer and fall, but in warmer areas may be active all year round. Mosquitoes may be found near standing water, or in weedy or wooded areas. They are usually most active during dawn and dusk in the warmer months.

With the vector borne diseases carried by mosquitos and ticks, the pain and symptoms may not be as readily apparent, but there are signs to watch out for.

Symptoms of Vector-borne Diseases include:

  • Body/muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Rash
  • Stiff neck
  • Paralysis

To decrease tick populations:

  1. Remove leaf litter
  2. Remove, mow, or cut back tall grass and brush
  3. Discourage deer activity

To decrease mosquito populations:

  1. Eliminate standing water
  2. Remove, turn over, cover, or store equipment.
  3. Remove debris from ditches.
  4. Fill in areas that collect standing water and place drain holes in containers that collect water and cannot be discarded.

To protect your employees encourage them to:

  1. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing (so ticks can be easily spotted), including long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks.
  2. Use insect repellents and insecticides such as permethrin for greater protection.
  3. Check skin and clothing for ticks daily. Check hair, underarms, and groin.
  4. Immediately remove ticks using fine-tipped tweezers.
  5. Wash and dry work clothes using the “hot” settings to kill any ticks present.

If an employee develops symptoms of a vector-borne disease they should seek medical attention promptly. Make sure they tell their doctor that they work outdoors and that they should report any ticks or mosquito bites.

Looking for more ideas on how to provide your employees with the PPE they need to protect themselves from insects, heat stress and other summer risks? Talk to one of our safety advisors today.

Arbill is a safety solutions company. We are all about protecting your workers in the workplace. Our mission is to keep workers safe and return them home safely at the end of the day. Visit arbill.com for more information.


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