Why Ticks Are Becoming a Bigger Safety Hazard on Job-Sites
When most people think about construction job-site hazards, they think about things like dangerous building materials or the risk of falling from a great height. However, it’s also important to focus on risks like tick bites, which are becoming a bigger concern.
Why are tick bites and Lyme disease becoming more serious threats on construction job-sites? And what can you do about it?
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The Increasing Tick Phenomenon
Ticks are a more important consideration and a bigger overall threat, but that’s not because ticks have inherently become more dangerous at the individual level. Instead, it’s because ticks have become more prevalent. More ticks in the wild means a greater likelihood of getting a tick bite, which in turn, leads to a greater likelihood of health problems (with Lyme disease being the biggest threat).
The culprit in question is a specific type of tick known as the blacklegged or “deer” tick, so named for its visual characteristics and feeding habits. This past season has been considered the worst tick season on record – especially for the deer tick – and for the following reasons:
- Mild winter. This past winter season has been uncharacteristically mild and warm, leading to a handful of different effects that have promoted populations of ticks. The warmer weather and shorter cold season led to an explosion of the tick population, and greater leaf cover on the ground has allowed them to evade certain existential threats.
- Acorn production. We also have to consider increased acorn production from acorn producing trees. At first glance, this may seem like it has nothing to do with tick populations, but the increased availability of acorns has provided a greater food supply for a species known as the white-footed mouse, which is an excellent food source for deer ticks. More food available to ticks has made them more abundant.
- Spread. Over the past couple of decades, deer ticks have spread throughout the United States. In the 1990s, they were mostly relegated to the Eastern Seaboard, the Mid-Atlantic, and parts of Florida. Now, these areas are flooded with ticks and ticks have made their way as far west as Minnesota.
- Encroachment on natural habitats. It doesn’t help that humans have been encroaching on certain natural habitats. The increased production of housing developments has taken away land from native deer populations, forcing ticks to search for new food supplies.
Lyme disease is arguably the most important consequence of tick bites to understand. Lyme disease is a specific disease caused by one of two species of bacteria carried by blacklegged ticks. When you acquire this disease, you may experience symptoms like headache, fever, and a distinguishing rash on the area of the bite. Thankfully, if you catch Lyme disease early, you can treat it successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. However, if left untreated, this infection can quickly spread throughout your body, including to your nervous system, resulting in much more severe symptoms.
Protecting Against Ticks on a Construction Job-Site
So what steps can you take to protect against ticks and Lyme disease on a construction job-site?
- Raise awareness. First, it’s your responsibility to make sure that everyone on your job site understands that ticks are a problem and why they’re a problem. It’s important that employees and contractors take this threat seriously; otherwise, they may ignore precautions or fail to treat their Lyme disease early.
- Wear long sleeves. Everyone on the job-site should be wearing long sleeves and long pants at all times. Deer ticks are notoriously opportunistic, but this simple line of defense can go a long way in preventing bites.
- Wear light-colored clothes. Similarly, everyone should wear light-colored clothing. This doesn’t necessarily deter ticks, but it does make them much easier to spot.
- Wear close-toed boots. Hopefully, everyone on the construction job site is already wearing close-toed shoes. Heavy boots that cover the ankle are even better for guarding against potential tick bites.
- Rely on insect repellants. Make sure to use plenty of insect repellent on a job-site and on the people working within it. There are many different compounds that are effective in repelling ticks, with the most prominent being DEET. Check product labels for usefulness and efficacy details.
- Keep the job-site clean. Ticks like to hide and lurk, so you can prevent bites by keeping your job-site as clean as possible. It’s especially important to remove leaves, keep the grass trimmed, and remove unnecessary debris.
- Perform body checks. At the end of a shift, perform detailed body checks. If a tick has latched onto you, you may not feel it.
- Encourage immediate bathing. After a shift, employees should immediately shower or bathe, giving them an opportunity to find and remove ticks that may have latched on.
- Educate employees on how to remove ticks. Removing a tick isn’t especially difficult; use a pair of tweezers to firmly grasp between the head and the skin and pull in a smooth, singular motion. If the mouthparts remain, don’t worry; these won’t transmit Lyme disease by themselves. Make sure your employees are educated on how and when to remove ticks.
Deer ticks and Lyme disease remain a hazard for the construction industry – and for anyone who spends time outside in an environment where ticks are prevalent. But with the right mindset and the proper precautions, you can avoid the worst repercussions of exposure.