The First Defense
Awareness is the first defense when it comes to dealing with nests that may be disturbed while changing out a meter, testing a transformer, climbing a pole or opening a substation panel door. Other potential nesting sites include holes and cracks in retaining and building walls, holes in the ground and trees, holes in and under building structures, and holes in drainage pipes, flower pots and other similar locations.
Following are descriptions of different types of bees you may encounter, plus pointers on how to handle them, from avoidance to proper care of a sting.
• Large with hairy, bright yellow or black abdomens.
• Females have pointed abdomens with stingers.
• Males have rounded abdomens and no stingers.
• Nests are established in abandoned rodent or bird nests in the ground.
• Bumblebees live for just one season, leaving only pregnant female queens to survive the winter and begin the cycle again.
• Smaller and duller in color than the bumblebee.
• Queen bees have curved, smooth stingers that can be used repeatedly.
• Infertile females known as worker bees have barbed stingers that remain in the skin of their victims. They die soon after stinging due to internal damage from loss of the stinger.
• Males, called drones, have no stingers.
• Honeybees live for more than one season and build aboveground hives.
• Hornets are large and hairless with black and yellow abdomens.
• They have a length of about three-quarters of an inch.
• They build exposed gray nests out of a paper-like material made from chewed wood.
• Nests are shaped like footballs, but may exceed the size of a basketball in diameter.
• Yellow jackets are housefly-sized wasps with distinct yellow and black markings and a few hairs.
• Their nests are similar to a hornet’s paper nest, but tan in color and much smaller.
• Nests are usually found in underground cavities, particularly in sandy exposed areas, as well as at the base of trees and shrubs.
• A yellow jacket will give off a scent to attract more yellow jackets if it is squashed, so don’t stick around.
Bee Sting Avoidance
• Wear light-colored clothing.
• Do not leave food, drinks, or garbage out and uncovered.
• Avoid wearing cologne or perfume, especially floral scents.
• When opening equipment, be alert to bees coming in and out of cracks and holes, and listen for the hum of an active bee colony.
• Check your vehicle for bees before you begin driving.
• Check vehicles that have been sitting for a length of time for signs of bee infestation.
• Avoid crushing bees and wasps. Many species release a type of pheromone when crushed or killed that can be detected by other members of their hive a significant distance away. Smashing a few bees instead of shooing them away might not seem like a big deal, but when the entire hive shows up a few minutes later, you might regret your decision.
If You Get Stung
• Remove the stinger as soon as possible.
• Remove the stinger in a sideways motion with tweezers or a credit card.
• Notify your field supervisor once you are safe and have removed the stinger.
• Pay close attention to the area or areas where you got stung.
• Use an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
• Thoroughly wash the sting site with soap and water.
• Use Sting-Kill swabs or wipes to help stop the pain.
• Use ice packs to minimize swelling.
What Not to Do
• Do not let stingers remain in the skin – venom can continue to pump into the body for up to 10 minutes.
• Do not squeeze or pinch stingers when removing them. That will inject more venom into the body.
• Do not cut the skin, try to suck out venom or use a meat tenderizer on the wound. Cutting the skin may lead to infection.
• Everybody reacts to stings in some way. Most swell around the stung area. That’s not the same as a systemic allergy.
• About 2 million Americans have allergies to stinging insect venom. Many of these individuals are at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions. Approximately 50 U.S. deaths each year are attributed to insect sting allergies.
• Symptoms of a systemic allergy may include widespread swelling, painful joints, hives, rapid pulse, dizziness, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness.
• Seek medical attention if a person shows signs of a systemic allergy or if swelling extends beyond two joints, such as if you are stung on the finger and the swelling extends past the wrist and elbow.
• If you are allergic, place a sticker on your hard hat that indicates your allergy. Always carry an adrenaline kit – such as EpiPen – and make sure your crew knows where you keep it and how to use it. If you need to go somewhere, have your partner drive you if they have not been stung.
• Although severe allergic reactions are not that common, they can lead to shock, cardiac arrest and unconsciousness in 10 minutes or less. This type of reaction can occur within minutes after a sting and be fatal. Get emergency treatment as soon as possible.
By following these basic principles, you can assure your summer will be a safer one.
About the Author: John Boyle is vice president of safety and quality for INTREN, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 28 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.