Commonwealth of Virginia Workers' Compensation Services
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Total Program Management
Search this site.View the site map.

Bugs, Insects, and Poisonous Plants

What’s the Issue?

Outdoor workers enjoy the healthful, stress-reducing benefits of exercise while ensuring facility grounds stay well manicured. However, with the benefits of working outdoors come dangers that must be considered.

“Each year nearly 100 Americans die due to insect allergies”1 and the sometimes deadly allergic reaction to venom deposited after a bite or sting. Many poisonous plants cause severe skin reactions and become deadly if ingested. Other poisonous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac pose a potentially deadly inhalation hazard if the plants are burned.

Employees working outdoors must contend with a variety of exposures and potential hazards. Providing appropriate training, personal protective equipment (PPE), protective barriers, and engineering controls may make a physically demanding task safer for them.

Types of Bugs, Insects, and Plants

Employees working outdoors and those responsible for grounds work may come in contact with a variety of potentially hazardous plants, bugs, and insects while performing their duties. A few examples of these include:

Poisonous plants: Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, wisteria, poinsettia, and poison hemlock

Insects/Bugs: Fire ants, bees, biting flies, mosquitoes, wasps, ticks, spiders, fleas, lice, caterpillars, and chiggers

Other: Rodents, wild or stray animals, and snakes

Employee Training

Employees should receive appropriate training before they perform outdoor work. The training should include any necessary equipment-specific training and plant and insect recognition. The employee should be provided pictures of the various types of poisonous plants that may be located on the property. Do not assume that all employees know what common poisonous plants look like. Employees should also be trained to identify various types of insects and bugs and be provided appropriate first aid training or instructions about where to go for first aid for bites and stings.

Best Practices/Safety Tips

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants
    • Securing sleeves and pant legs with tape or a rubber band or placing pant legs inside socks helps prevent insects from crawling underneath them.
  • Wear light colored clothing (i.e. tan, khaki) to help spot ticks and to be less attractive to insects such as bees.
  • Check utility boxes and electrical boxes regularly and keep piles of dirt away from buildings to prevent fire ant colonies.
  • Use insect repellent
    • Spraying clothing instead of the body helps the repellent last longer, especially when perspiring, and may prevent an allergic reaction to the repellent.
  • Make sure appropriate personal protective equipment is provided and worn.
    • Hat with a full brim to protect the head and the back of the neck
    • Gloves (heavy duty, leather, latex, or vinyl as appropriate)
    • Leather boots
    • Respiratory Protection (if necessary)
  • Wear barrier creams to lessen the effects of poisonous plant exposures.
  • When sunscreen is to be used in conjunction with insect repellents or other barrier creams, apply the sunscreen first, wait at least 30 minutes and apply the secondary cream.
    • It may be necessary to reapply creams throughout the day.
  • After working outdoors, be sure to practice good personal hygiene.
    • Wash hands and arms to remove poisonous oils, barrier creams, or other potentially hazardous substances from the skin.
  • Be mindful of where your hands and feet are when working in wooded areas or areas prone to harbor snakes and spiders.
  • Use a stick or other long-handled item to turn rocks over before picking them up to make sure there is no threat.
  • Do not wear perfume.
  • Do not leave sugary drinks unattended for long periods of time and dispose of garbage after eating food.
  • Make sure pesticide applications are performed by trained and licensed individuals.
  • Use a bleach and water solution to clean rodent droppings, urine, and any nesting materials.
When Bites, Stings or Exposures Occur
  • Report the incident to the agency using the established protocol.
  • Seek medical attention, depending on the severity of the incident.
  • Do not scratch the affected area.
  • Keep the insect, bug, or animal, if possible, in case the medical professional needs it to determine treatment.
    • Be able to provide a description of the animal or insect if the actual body is not available.
  • If stung by a wasp or hornet, leave the work area immediately to avoid repeat stings. Use a fingernail or object like a credit card to scrape the stinger out.
  • If bitten by a snake, stay calm to prevent the venom from traveling faster through the bloodstream, keep the bite area below the level of the heart, perform basic first aid, and immediately obtain emergency medical assistance.
  • Watch for allergic reactions, such as hives, nausea, fever, or difficulty breathing.
Protecting employees with outdoor responsibilities from insects and poisonous plants should be just as important as protecting them from indoor workplace hazards. Knowledge is power and empowering employees with the appropriate information to identify and protect themselves from hazards encountered outdoors is just one tool an agency can utilize to keep employees safe.

1Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (n.d.). Allergy Facts and Figures. Retrieved April 14, 2008 from⊂=30#_ftnref9.


Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (n.d.). Allergy Facts and Figures. Retrieved April 14, 2008 from⊂=30#_ftnref9.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. (n.d). Insects. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from

Cornell University. (n.d.). Poisonous Plants Informational Database. Retrieved from

Coastal Training Technologies Corporation. (1999). Groundskeeping Safety: Dealing with Bugs & Critters.

Health Illustrated Encyclopedia-Animated Dissection of Anatomy for Medicine. (n.d). Bug Repellent Safety. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from

Johanyak, Debra. (2002). Insect safety: pest control to prevent injury. Essortment. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from

Nelson, Lewis S., Shih, Richard D., Balick, Michael J. co-published with the New York Botanical Garden. (2006). Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). OSHA Quick Card: Rodents, Snakes, and Insects. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from

Relf, Diane. (August 1996). Virginia Cooperative Extension. Learning from Poisonous Plants. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from

Wood, Barbara. (2002). Teaching children about dangerous bugs. Essortment. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from

Previous Page