When you think of hazards in an industrial facility, a honeybee isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. These little insects, which float between flowers and forage nectar for honey production, hardly seem like a significant threat. However, it is surprisingly common for outdoor workers to be stung by bees during the course of work, suffering painful reactions and sometimes death.
During the summer months, bee stings are one of the most frequent causes of injury listed on municipal worker accident reports. Whether you are a groundskeeper or an electrical lineman, you can be attacked while doing your job.
Swarms and Hives
Bees can be found in the workplace in two situations. First, the bees could be in swarm. The swarm is a large colony of bees attached to tree limbs, pipes or just about any outdoor object. We typically notice the less-aggressive swarms in the spring and fall of the year. During this time the bees are looking for a permanent home.
Bees can also be found in permanent homes or hives. There can be as many as 60,000 bees in a hive. A hive can be within brush piles, old tires, a hole in a tree or wall or even an empty soda can. Like humans, bees need food, water and shelter to survive. Providing for and protecting the hive is their highest priority. It is when the hive is threatened that bees are at their most aggressive.
Bee Activity on the Rise
Bee attacks have been increasing lately. One reason for this is that some domestic honeybee colonies have genetically mixed with Africanized Honeybees. Africanized Honeybees, coined “Killer Bees” after a 1970s movie, first appeared in the U.S. in 1990. Originally located in Africa, several queens were captured and brought to Brazil in 1956 to improve honey production. The next year, a few of the bees escaped and bred with local bees. Migrating about 200 miles each year, Africanized Honeybees now stretch along the southern part of the U.S. from California to Florida. Africanized and domestic honeybees look so much alike that only a laboratory can tell them apart.
Some sources claim that in the U.S. as many as 17 people are killed each year by honeybees, both domestic and Africanized. Many of the victims were either allergic to the venom or in a position where they could not escape the attack. Bees cause death by either a severe allergic reaction from a few stings or from a massive dose of venom of a thousand or more stings.
If You Discover a Bee Colony
When a colony of bees has invaded the worksite, our first impulse is to destroy them. But we should try to do just the opposite. Bees are important to our own survival because they pollinate about 80% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat. The average honeybee produces about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. So we should do everything we can not to destroy them.
If the bees are in a swarm, barricade the area and warn employees to stay away. Most swarms leave in a few days once a permanent home has been found.
If a hive is discovered, keep employees away and contact a professional beekeeper for assistance in removing the hive.
Your best defense is to spot the bees first and avoid them. Bees become more aggressive when exposed to certain odors, colors and the vibration of chain saws, lawn mowers and other engines.
If bees attack, your only defense is to seek shelter in a vehicle or building. Trying to outrun bees is futile. Bees can fly about 20 miles per hour and have been known to chase workers for over a quarter mile.
If stung, scrape the stinger out as soon as possible; a stinger can continue pumping venom into your system for up to 10 minutes. Wash the sting site and apply ice to reduce swelling. Contact your doctor if you are stung multiple times or if you begin developing an allergic reaction.
Workers who know they could have a life-threatening allergic reaction to insect venom should ask their physician about carrying a self-injectable epinephrine shot. In this case, always seek further treatment at a medical facility.
If you are located in an area that is known to have been colonized by Africanized bees, it is important to educate employees about the dangers of bees, where they can be located, methods of protection, and first aid for bee stings.