Rodents, snakes, and insects: Heat isn’t the only outdoor hazard

Date Posted: 06/03/2024

Heat isn’t the only hazard outdoor workers face. When working at sites with woods, bushes, high grass, or leaf litter, workers may risk exposure to poisonous plants, insect bites, venomous snakes, and other potential hazards.

Ticks, spiders, and insects

Warm temperatures bring out ticks, spiders, and insects. Best practices when working in areas where they’re present include:

  • Wearing long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts, and tucking pants into boots or socks.
  • Using insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin.
  • Checking skin and clothing for ticks daily, and immediately removing ticks using fine-tipped tweezers.
  • Treating bites or stings with over-the-counter products that relieve pain and prevent infection.
  • Seeking prompt medical attention if you experience new, severe, or persistent symptoms after a bite or sting. These may include swelling and pain at the bite site, body/muscle aches, fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, rash, stiff neck, and/or paralysis.

Rodents and other animals

Bites and scratches from wild animals can cause injury and spread germs, even if the wound doesn’t seem deep or serious.

  • Avoid contact with rats or rat-contaminated buildings. If this isn’t possible, wear protective gloves and wash hands regularly.
  • Avoid contact with wild or stray animals.
  • Wash scratches or bites with warm soapy water immediately. Seek medical attention if the wound is serious; the animal looks sick or acts unusual; the wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen.


Venomous snakes in the U.S. include rattlesnakes, coral snakes, cottonmouths/water moccasins, and copperheads. Employers should train workers about their risk of exposure to venomous snakes, how to prevent and protect themselves from snake bites, and what to do if they’re bitten. Tips include:

  • Watch for snakes sunning themselves on fallen trees, limbs, or pathways.
  • Wear heavy gloves when removing debris and if possible don’t place fingers under debris when moving it.
  • Wear boots at least 10 inches high.
  • If you see a snake, step back and allow it to move away. Snakes bite only when they feel threatened or trapped.
  • Seek medical attention if bitten.

Poisonous plants

Plants such as poison ivy, western poison oak, and poison sumac have poisonous sap in their roots, stems, leaves, and fruit. If the stems or leaves are damaged, the sap may be deposited on the skin through direct contact with the plant or by contaminated objects such as clothing, shoes, tools, and animals. Signs of an allergic reaction may include itching, redness, a burning sensation, swelling, blisters, and/or a rash. Outdoor workers should be trained on the hazards if there’s a risk of exposure.

  • Wear cloth or leather gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants tucked into boots.
  • Apply barrier cream/lotion to exposed skin.
  • Keep rubbing alcohol accessible. It removes the oily resin up to 30 minutes after exposure.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Topic Index Icon

Outdoor workers face a variety of potential hazards, not just heat. To quickly get up to speed on a new subject, check out the Topics area of the J. J. Keller SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE. You’ll find a Hazardous Plants and Animals topic with ezExplanations that provide an overview and explain employer responsibilities.

E-mail Newsletter

Sign up to receive the weekly EHS Insider email newsletter for safety articles, news headlines, regulatory alerts, industry events, webcasts, and more.