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Beware Poisonous Snakes When Working Outdoors this Summer

HeaderVenomous snakes present a serious danger to anyone working in the field. Make sure you know how to identify, avoid and coexist with these reptiles.

From exposure to extreme temperatures and harmful UV rays, inclement weather, vector-borne diseases, and a whole host of poisonous plants and animals to worry about, it’s important for district employees to know their risks when working outdoors this summer.

Perhaps none of these threats send a shiver down the spine quite like the threat of a potentially deadly snake bite. It is estimated that 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes every year in the United States. Out of Colorado’s 28 known snake species, only four are venomous. All of these venomous snakes are different types of rattlesnake: Prairie, Midget Faded, Massasauga, and the Western Diamondback.

District employees who work outdoors should be trained in identifying snakes, avoiding bites, recognizing bite symptoms, and administering appropriate first aid response when a snake bite does occur.

The most common venomous snake in Colorado is the Prairie Rattlesnake, identifiable by its light brown coloring with patches of dark brown distributed in a dorsal pattern. The snake has a distinctive triangle-shaped head and of course, its infamous rattle. Rattlesnakes may be found in all habitats and are often found near logs, boulders, or even in open areas.1

Snakes are generally more active at night and in warmer weather. Rattlesnakes in particular are not naturally aggressive and generally avoid people and other predators if given a chance to escape.

If threatened, a rattlesnake will coil into a defensive position and shake its tail rattle, making a loud, distinctive noise. Similar-looking bull snakes imitate rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in tall grass, but they lack the viper’s venom and real rattle.

Workers should never attempt to handle any snake, venomous or not. Instead, outdoor workers should be trained to stay away from potential snake habitats, such as tall grass or piles of leaves.

If working in such habitats is unavoidable, employees should wear the appropriate personal protection equipment, including thick boots, gloves, and long pants. Employees working in the field should always have access to a mobile phone in order to call 911 or local emergency medical services.

The main characteristic of a venomous snake bite is the swelling and redness that develops around a pair of puncture marks, accompanied by severe pain. Further physical symptoms include nausea and vomiting, labored breathing, blurred vision, increased salivation and sweating, and numbness or tingling around the face and/or limbs.

These symptoms should never be ignored, even if you are not certain that the snake that struck is in fact venomous or that a snake bite has actually occurred. While there’s a pervasive belief that bites from baby snakes are actually more deadly than those delivered by more mature snakes, this is a complete myth.2

Still, symptoms of any venomous snake bite should never be ignored no matter how large or small the snake is, as even very small adolescent snakes are still capable of causing serious, life-threatening harm.

Anyone who is bitten by a venomous snake should seek immediate medical attention. Once the venom enters a person’s bloodstream, time is of the essence to seek professional treatment.

If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake, don’t wait for symptoms to appear before seeking treatment. If someone does get bitten by a snake, it is important for the victim to remain still and calm to help slow down the spread of venom. If they cannot be taken to a hospital right away, first aid should be applied.

The victim should lay or sit down with the bite site being positioned below the level of the heart, and the bite site should be washed with soap and water and covered with a clean, dry dressing.3

If possible, the bite victim should try to remember the color and the shape of the snake, paying special attention to any markings and the shape of the snake’s head. However, we have to reiterate the importance of never attempting to pick up or handle a snake, so don’t go after a snake in an attempt to identify its markings.

While it might work in classic Westerns, you should never attempt to slash the wound with a knife in order to suck out the venom, nor should you ever apply a tourniquet, as doing so can significantly increase the damage. Finally, the victim should not consume any alcohol or caffeinated beverages before seeking treatment for a snake bite.

While snake bites can pose a significant danger to district employees working in the field, proper training on how to identify and avoid poisonous snakes, how to apply first aid to bite victims, and outfitting workers with the appropriate personal protective gear goes a long way towards mitigating this potential hazard.

Resources

1 CDC: Hazards to Outdoors Workers
2 Are Bites From baby Venomous Snakes More Dangerous Than Those From Adults?
3 CDC: Workplace Safety and Health Topics – Venomous Snakes

CDC’s Pictorial Key to Venomous Species in the United States

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