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Death by Bugs or Beasts

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

And You Thought Machines Were Unpredictable

When you think of workplace hazards, you probably think of violent, sometimes terrifying risks — such as arc flashes, falling from heights, explosions. What you probably don't think about are bees, wasps, spiders.

Surprisingly, death by bugs occurred 83 times in the workplace from 2003 to 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, insects, arachnids, and mites accounted for 4,930 to 6,870 cases of work-related injury/illness resulting in days off between 2008 and 2010. Both OSHA and NIOSH recognize this as a workplace hazard.

The careers most typically associated with this type of injury are farming, construction, and landscaping. 52 of the 83 fatalities were attributable to bees. In many cases the worker is attacked by a swarm. Though the typical case includes an anaphylactic reaction, in some cases pests caused death via a secondary reaction such as falling from heights.

About 25% of the bug-related fatalities occurred in Texas, with Florida in a distant second place for this hazard. In one of these high risk areas during peak pest months, solutions should be nearby. An easily-accessible first aid kit with treatments for the pests typically found in that area --snakes, scorpions, poisonous spiders--is advisable. An epinephrine injector could prevent a fatal reaction to a pest or even life-threatening allergic reactions to medications or foods. If employees are at special risk for encountering pests—pruning a tree, for instance—encourage them to wear protective clothing and use bug repellant. OSHA offers this quick card of safety measures.

So you've dealt with the bugs, but there's also the risk of…

Death by Beasts

Now here is another surprising statistic: animals caused 375 workplace fatalities from 1992-1997. That is about 1% of workplace deaths reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This does not include fatalities caused by dead animals.

So how is this possible?

Fish account for a surprising lot of occupational injuries —about 2,500 during the 1992-1997 study period —but rarely cause fatalities. Fish workers and handlers often face a risk of being struck by wriggling fish, which may weigh several hundred pounds. Something that slippery is bound to be a hazard. And carrying something heavy and slippery creates weight or slip hazards, as well as puncture risks from fins or teeth.

Dogs caused 8 deaths and nearly 14,000 injuries during this study period. The majority were from enraged dogs attacking workers. Occasionally a worker will contract a disease or serious illness as a result of a dog bite. Despite the eternal jokes about the enmity between mail carriers and dogs, canine-caused injuries and deaths span a variety of occupations; one third are nonfarm animal caretakers, with the rest being split mostly among truck drivers, veterinarians, and meter readers.

And though cats may seem mean at times yet fairly harmless, they accounted for 4,600 injuries during that time. Most of these cases were people getting attacked by cats, with two-thirds of the injuries attributed specifically to bites. Again, this isn't just a wound hazard but can potentially deliver disease. However, cats caused no workplace fatalities.

Cattle clocked in at 38% of the animal-as-causal-agent workplace deaths. Bulls accounted for half the cattle deaths, but protective mother cows are also a serious hazard. Another risk is vehicle-cattle collisions, or struck-by hazards such as being hit by a gate when a cow moves unexpectedly. Equines (horses, donkeys, and mules) accounted for 28%, causing 104 deaths; in half of these cases the worker was attacked. The others were riders falling off horses or vehicles colliding with them.

Assume all animals are a hazard

Now the big question: what can be done? Staying alert while near animals is key. Use animal restraints when appropriate, and wear clothing designed for the task—animal PPE, if you will—to decrease risk. Inspect enclosures regularly for damage and replace as needed. Train new personnel on proper animal handling, and the associated risks. Taking time for horror stories may conjure up images of swapping tales ‘round the campfire, but certainly helps workers remember to keep their guard up. OSHA has put together this training document on proper animal handling techniques.