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Protecting workers from insect dangers

December 13, 2011

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How can I best protect my employees from insects when they work outdoors?

Responding is Jason Griffin, president, Insect Shield International LLC (Work Wear), Greensboro, NC.

Protecting your employees from insect-borne disease should be a critical part of a company’s environmental, health and safety program. The appropriate prevention tools may depend on which insects and diseases are threats in your specific work environments.

Education: One of the most important things you can do to help workers avoid insect-borne disease is to educate them about the risks that exist in the areas they work. For employees who travel to tropical regions, a malaria education program is essential. Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, are found in all 50 states. Lyme disease is the most common, with 30,000 to 40,000 confirmed and probable cases occurring in the United States each year. Of these, however, 94 percent occur in 12 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Employers with outdoor workers in these states should be on particularly high alert and ensure their employees understand the threat of Lyme disease.

Repellents and barriers: Insect repellents and barriers are critical to the prevention of insect-borne disease. Topical repellents containing DEET or Picaradin can be effective. Workers who travel to regions where malaria is present should be given bed nets to sleep under and be trained to use them. Staying in well-sealed or screened accommodations is important.

One new form of protection is long-lasting insect-repellent clothing. The clothing is treated with permethrin, which has been available as a self-applied clothing repellent for 40 years. These do-it-yourself products are effective, but they wash out after a few cycles, at which point you must reapply them. Today, clothing has been developed that is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency to provide protection from ticks, mosquitoes and several other types of insects through 70 washes.

Pest control: If work is in a stationary location (construction site or manufacturing plant), proper pest control can be an important tool. Make sure a professional pest management service visits your site regularly. Some job descriptions (forestry, wildlife management, etc.) require workers to be constantly on the move. Pest control in such situations is not practical.

Prophylaxis and vaccines: Vaccines and prophylaxes are available for some insect-borne diseases. Several malaria prophylaxes are available, and traveling workers should contact their health department officials to find out which one is most appropriate for a given location. Vaccines are available for yellow fever and Japanese encephilitis, but workers must check the longevity of each vaccine and remain up to date on their inoculations. No vaccine or chemoprophylaxis is available for Dengue fever, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, Ehrlichiosis or the dozens of other insect-borne diseases that may put your workers at risk.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

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