American River Watershed Institute
Fire Safety Project | Homeowners Equipment Safety Manual

Health and Safety Hazards

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Back Injury

Suggested preventive measures include maintaining:
  1. A high level of physical fitness.
  2. Abdominal tone.
  3. Flexibility in the lower back and hamstring muscles.
  4. Regular, moderate aerobic activity.
  5. Good posture and proper mechanics while lifting and carrying.
  6. A routine warm-up schedule of five or ten minutes of stretching and loosening the muscles to reduce muscle tension, improve range of motion, and reduce the chance of muscle strains or other injuries.

Plant, Animal, and Insect Hazards

Poison Oak and Noxious Weeds

Be aware of poisonous plants and noxious weeds that are present in the work area. Even people having no history of reactions may become sensitized after contact and have a serious reaction.
  1. When working in areas where poisonous plants or noxious weeds may be present:
    1. Wear proper field attire.
    2. Provide and apply a skin protectant or barrier cream. Fasten pant legs securely over boot tops (adhesive tape may be necessary).
    3. Wear gloves and keep them away from the face and other exposed parts of the body. Do not touch skin with hands, clothes, or equipment that may have contacted poisonous plants or noxious weeds.
  2. Whenever the skin contacts a poisonous plant or noxious weed, wash the area with cold water within 1 to 3 minutes or as soon as possible. Use liberal amounts of water to ensure that all poisonous oils are washed off. While working in the poisonous plant or noxious weed environment, do not use soap and/or hot water because they can remove the natural protective oils from your skin.
  3. Destroy poisonous plants and noxious weeds around improved areas.
  4. Avoid the smoke of burning poisonous plants. Inhaling this smoke can cause fever, malaise, tracheitis, bronchitis, and severe rash.
  5. Upon returning from the field, use rubbing alcohol to cleanse skin that contacted poisonous plants.
  6. Clean tools with citric-based solvent before storing (use appropriate gloves and adequate ventilation).
  7. Avoid exposure through mishandling of contaminated clothes. Wash contaminated clothing separately from other clothes in hot water and detergent.

Ticks and Chiggers

Ticks are carriers of biological agents that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, tick paralysis, lyme disease, tularemia, and relapsing fever.

General Safety Procedures

When working in an area likely to have infected ticks:
  1. Spray clothes with an insect repellent, which may provide an additional barrier against ticks. Repellents, such as diethyl metatoloamide (DEET), do not kill ticks. Some sprays do contain permethrin, which kill ticks on contact. Always follow the manufacturer's application instructions for insect repellents and treatments.

  2. Wear light-colored clothing that fits tightly at the wrists, ankles, and waist. Each outer garment should overlap the one above it. Cover trouser legs with high socks or boots and tuck shirttails inside trousers. 3. Search the body repeatedly (such as during rest periods and lunch), especially hairy regions and inside clothing, as ticks seldom attach themselves within the first few hours.

  3. Remove ticks with fine-tipped tweezers or fingers. Grasp the tick as close as possible to the point of attachment and pull straight up, applying gentle pressure. Wash the skin with soap and water; then cleanse with rubbing alcohol. Do not try to remove the tick by burning it with a match or covering it with chemical agents. If the head detaches during the removal procedure or the tick cannot be removed, seek medical attention.

  4. Once the tick has been removed, place it in an empty container so it can be given to a physician should the victim experience a reaction. Record the dates of tick exposure and removal. An early warning sign to watch for is a large red spot on a tick bite. Reactions within 2 weeks include fever, chills, headache, joint and muscle ache, significant fatigue, and facial paralysis.


General Safety Procedures

In chigger infested areas:
  1. Apply insect spray according to the manufacturer's application instructions.
  2. Do not sit on the ground or on logs and avoid walking through low vegetation, when possible.
  3. Bathe in hot, soapy water after spending time in these areas.

Poisonous Snakes, Spiders, and Scorpions

Rattlesnakes are common in the Sierra Foothill region.
  1. Learn what poisonous snakes (if any) are native to the area you will be working in.

  2. Learn how to identify whether or not a snake is poisonous. If unsure, treat all snakes as poisonous. Study field guides or text book illustrations of indigenous venomous snakes.

  3. Do not assume a young snake is not poisonous, because venomous snakes are capable of inflicting a fatal bite from birth.

Precautions for Working in Snake Country

When working in snake-infested areas:
  1. Wear high top boots (just below the knee is preferred) and/or protective snake-proof leggings. Use a hiking stick.

  2. Although snakes are deaf, they have a good sense of smell and vision and are very sensitive to ground-conducted vibrations. Since they are defensive animals and rarely attack, they remain immobile or attempt to retreat if given the opportunity. When going through thick underbrush, be alert. Walk slowly and give snakes ample time to move out of the way.

  3. Be particularly watchful in areas obscured by foliage or near ledges when walking or climbing in rocky country. Snakes have excellent camouflage ability so train your eyes to see their shape and coloration.

  4. Walk on clear paths as much as possible. Be careful where placing your feet and hands at all times.

  5. Probe areas with a long-handled tool or stick before stepping over logs or piles of brush and debris.

First Aid for Snake Bites

Snake bites in the United States are rarely fatal when medical care is sought early and appropriate antivenin is readily available.
  1. Avoid panic.
  2. Immobilize the bitten extremity and obtain medical assistance.
  3. If you are alone when bitten, walk slowly, resting periodically and using a makeshift crutch if the lower extremity is involved. Again, keep activity to a minimum.


Few spiders in the United States have venom that cause death. But the bites of the black widow and the brown recluse spiders can be fatal. Both spiders are found in most areas of the United States. The bite of the black widow is the more painful and often the more deadly of the two. Both prefer dark, out-of-the way places where they are seldom disturbed. Be alert for these spiders in basements, garages, barns and other outbuildings, woodpiles and gardens, and under stones, logs, and vegetation.
  1. Aggressive House Spider. Another dangerous spider is the aggressive house spider. The spider got its name because it readily bites when cornered or threatened. Its bite is not fatal but is serious and requires immediate medical attention. The light brown spider's body is in two segments that together are about half an inch (12-3/4 mm) long, excluding its hairy legs. This spider is among the most common spiders found in buildings. It rarely climbs vertical surfaces and is usually found on the ground or lower floors, especially in cool moist window wells and basements.

  2. Female Black Widow Spider. The female black widow is shiny black with a red hourglass mark on the stomach. The female's body is about half an inch (12-3/4 mm) long, and the male is less than half this size. The initial bite may be sharply painful, but many bites are not recognized initially.

  3. Brown Recluse Spider. The brown recluse is light brown with a darker brown violin shaped marking on the top of its 1/3 inch to 2/3 inch (8-15 mm) body. Brown recluse spiders are most active at night from spring through fall, emerging from woodpiles, rat nests, and other dark, dry environments. The bite can vary from a mild and transient skin irritation to more complicated kidney and other disorders, and even death. Refer to exhibit 01 for identification.

  4. Spider Bites — Signals of a spider bite include:

    1. Nausea and vomiting.
    2. Difficulty breathing and swallowing.
    3. Sweating and salivating profusely.
    4. Irregular heart rhythms.
    5. Severe pain and swelling in the bite area.
    6. A mark indicating a possible bite.
  5. First Aid for Spider Bites

    1. Wash the area with soap and water.
    2. Apply a cold pack.
    3. Seek medical care as soon as possible to receive an antivenin.


Scorpions in the United States are divided into two groups based on the severity of their sting. Scorpions whose venom can be lethal are found in the desert areas of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas, as well as along the northern shore of Lake Mead in Nevada. The venom of these scorpions contains neurotoxins that produce systemic effects, as well as local burning and pain, which can be accentuated by tapping over the envenomed area (tap test). All other scorpions in the United States produce a local reaction that consists of painful swelling and burning with a discoloring of the skin.

Today, death from the sting of a "lethal" scorpion is preventable. Proper care includes washing the wound, applying a cold pack, and getting medical help as soon as possible to receive antivenin. Scorpions are nocturnal feeders and most live above ground and hide in old stumps, lumber piles, firewood, loose bark on fallen trees, ground debris, or crevices during the daytime. When working in scorpion and spider areas, be aware and take these precautions:

  1. Always inspect in and under tarps, or other ground covers before use.
  2. Always inspect and shake out clothing before wearing.
  3. Do not leave work gloves, boots, jackets, or hats on the ground.
  4. Always inspect outdoor toilets before use.
  5. Never walk around in the dark without wearing shoes or boots.
  6. Always have a flashlight for inspecting outhouses, clothing, and bedding.
  7. Always inspect logs, stumps, rocks, and any other areas before sitting down.
  8. When working in hot, dry areas, be especially watchful when using shady spots for rest breaks.
  9. Before use, inspect those items that have been stored in the shade while working.
  10. Always wear gloves (leather preferred) when moving or handling lumber, firewood, trash, or debris that could hide or contain spiders or scorpions. If an area that was stung or bitten shows rapid inflammation and pain, or the person bitten or stung develops other symptoms, such as chills, fever, joint pains, nausea, or vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.

Insect Stings and Bites

Honey Bees

The honey bee is one of the few domesticated insects that is maintained in hives. Numerous species of honey bee exist. The Italian honey bee, a common strain of Europe, is also widespread in the United States. Wild honey bee colonies usually nest in hollow trees or crevices in rocks but may nest in walls of occupied buildings. Also of considerable health concern has been the spread of the Africanized honey bee.
  1. Single stings from any of these insects generally do not require medical attention. There may be an immediate sharp pain followed by redness and swelling. For mild bee stings, application of ice packs often gives relief. Honey bees and yellow jackets occasionally leave their stinger in the wound. Stingers should be scraped or brushed off with a sharp-edged instrument. Do not remove stingers with tweezers, which may squeeze the attached venom sac and worsen the injury.

  2. Some individuals are sensitized to bee and wasps stings and may react with a widespread rash, asthmatic breathing, tissue swelling, a fall in blood pressure, or sometimes unconsciousness.

Safety Guidelines

  1. For outdoor field work, always wear appropriate field attire — long sleeved shirts, long trousers, and appropriate boots. It is recommended to tuck trouser legs into socks.

  2. Wear appropriate light-colored clothing, including socks. Avoid wearing leather. When defending their nests, bees target objects that resemble their natural predators (such as bears and skunks). They tend to go after dark, leather, or furry objects. Bees see the color red as black so fluorescent orange is a better work clothing choice than red.

  3. Avoid wearing scents of any kind. Bees communicate by scent and tend to be very sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps, perfumes, after-shaves, and heavily scented gum. If riding, avoid the use of lemony or citrus-smelling fly control products on your horse.

  4. Avoid identified nests and never poke or throw objects at nests. If attacked, shield your face with your arms and leave the area.

Africanized Honey Bees

These bees are docile when seeking out a new nest site and establishing a nest. In the field, European honey bees and Africanized honey bees are visually indistinguishable, but the following are behavioral patterns typical of the Africanized honey bees:
  1. Africanized honey bees display random nest selection. They may nest in areas not normally selected by European honey bees; however, they have been known to take over European honey bee nests.

  2. After developing brood and honey stores, Africanized honey bees become extremely defensive and easily agitated.

  3. When in established hives, Africanized honey bees quickly respond in large numbers to nearby stimuli, such as a loud noise created by chain saws or working machinery.

  4. Africanized honey bees are attracted mainly to the face and neck area. If attacked, get away quickly while covering the head and neck area. Do not stand still, swat, or try to hide underwater. Seek inside shelter, such as buildings or vehicles.

  5. If stung, remove stinger(s) by scraping sideways, not pulling.


When massive flooding occurs, a significant increase in mosquito populations also increases the chances of an outbreak of encephalitis. Recent outbreaks of West Nile Virus are also of concern. Ticks that ingest mosquitoes may also transmit encephalitis to humans. Encephalitis produces influenza-like symptoms, including headaches, lethargy, fever, double vision, extreme muscle weakness, confusion, tremors, or seizures.

Use of repellents containing DEET or brand name products, such as Duranon, is recommended. Note: Duranon is applied to clothing only, not directly to the skin.