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Take 5 for Safety: Protecting yourself against stinging insects

By Ashleigh Petersen

May 23, 2023

Take 5 for Safety is a monthly article designed to give equipment and event rental stores the information they need to conduct a five-minute safety meeting on a particular topic. Below are talking points for this month’s meeting. Click hereto download the Take 5 for Safety signup sheet. This can be used to take attendance during the meeting.  

Flying insects 

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

First aid 

If a worker is stung by a stinging insect: 

  • Have someone stay with the worker to be sure that they do not have an allergic reaction. 
  • Wash the site with soap and water.
  • Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area. Never squeeze the stinger or use tweezers. 
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling. 
  • Do not scratch the sting as this may increase swelling, itching and risk of infection. 

Protect yourself 

  • Wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing. 
  • Avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants. Do not wear cologne or perfume. 
  • Wear clean clothing and bathe daily. 
  • Wear clothing to cover as much of the body as possible. 
  • Avoid flowering plants when possible.
  • Keep work areas clean. Some insects are attracted to discarded food. 
  • Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around. Swatting may cause it to sting. 
  • If attacked by several stinging insects, run to get away. Bees release a chemical when they sting, which attracts other bees.
  • Go indoors. 
  • Shaded areas are better than open areas.
  • Do not jump into water. Some insects — such as Africanized honeybees — are known to hover above the water.
  • Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy. 

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. 

First aid 

  • Rub off ants briskly, as they will attach to the skin with their jaws. 
  • Antihistamines may help. Follow directions on packaging and be aware that drowsiness may occur. 
  • Seek immediate medical attention if a sting causes severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling or slurred speech. 

Protect yourself 

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

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, imported fire ants infest more than 367 million acres in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Puerto Rico.

Locations of imported fire ants. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention