Sometimes the hazards you can’t see can be just as dangerous as those you can.
A bite from a tick – which can be as small as a pinhead – can lead to a debilitating case of Lyme disease. Outdoor workers, including those in construction, are at particular risk of being exposed to disease-carrying ticks at a job-site.
Tara LeDuc, Senior Risk Management Consultant at Builders Mutual, shares some tips for preventing tick bites and discusses why it’s so important to identify them as early as possible.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is one of the most common infections in the U.S., affecting about 476,000 people each year. Most of these infections come from tick bites.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can produce a range of symptoms. Early on, people can experience fever, fatigue, and muscle and joint aches. About 70 to 80 percent of infected people have an erythema migrans (EM) rash, which may begin at the site of the bite and then grow over the body.
Days to months after an infection, symptoms of untreated Lyme disease can include severe pain, arthritis, facial paralysis, and heart problems.
Preventing tick bites
The most immediate threat to construction workers from ticks can be found on the job-site.
These parasites live in grassy, wooded areas (or even on animals). The best way to avoid tick bites is by avoiding sites with woods, bushes, tall grass, and leaf litter. But for construction workers, especially those working in excavation or in land surveying, this isn’t always possible. Many job-sites have shady, wooded areas where ticks may live.
What’s more, ticks can be found in many areas of the country, from the Eastern seaboard through the mid-Atlantic and down to Florida. Ticks are most common in late spring and summer, but the risk of Lyme disease is year-round.
Construction crews can reduce their risk of tick bites by taking certain preventive measures:
- Wear the right clothes.
- Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and hat when possible
- Light-colored clothing so that ticks can be more easily seen
- Boots or closed-shoes that cover the entire foot
- Spray insect repellents.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Use EPA’s search tool to find products that are right for you.
- Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin, which kills ticks on contact, remains protective through several washings.
- Keep a clean job-site.
- Remove leaf litter.
- Remove, mow, or cut back tall grass and brush.
- Discourage deer activity.
Care at the end of the day
Once you’ve returned inside, check to see if any ticks have attached to your body and remove them as soon as you can.
- Do a full body check. Common places where ticks attach include:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- Shower or bathe as soon as possible to wash off or check for ticks.
- Remove any ticks promptly. Getting ticks off you within 24 hours reduces your risk of being infected with the Lyme disease bacterium.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly between the head of the tick and your skin.
- Pull the tick’s body gently away in a smooth motion. Sometimes, the tick’s black mouthparts will stay behind. These mouthparts don’t transmit Lyme disease – just leave them alone and they will come out on their own.
- Clean the area with soap and water.
- Many myths exist around the best way to remove a tick: for example, using petroleum jelly, a hot match, or nail polish. Do not use these methods, as they are not effective.
If you do get bitten by a tick, consider contacting your healthcare provider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in some circumstances, a single dose of antibiotics can lower your risk of Lyme disease.
However, if you start experiencing some of the symptoms above – even a few weeks later – seek medical care immediately. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics if identified early.
If you have questions about reducing the risks of ticks at your job-site, talk with a Builders Mutual risk management consultant. We can provide more information about personal protective equipment and strategies for keeping work areas clean. Plus, we can help you organize a toolbox talk to train your crew on the proper ways to protect against and identify tick bites. As a starting point, use this helpful fact sheet from OSHA.