By Peter Teska
No matter where you live, it’s likely you’ve at some point encountered the deadliest animal in the world – the mosquito(1). These small insects may seem harmless, but diseases such as Zika virus, West Nile virus (WNV), Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Japanese Encephalitis and malaria are all spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes and can be fatal.(2)
Facility management employees who work outside, or in buildings with open windows and doors, are at greater risk of encountering mosquitoes, especially infected ones that can pass diseases to humans(3). Employers should understand and implement precautions that will reduce risks for workers.
The Risks Are Real
The 2016 Zika virus outbreak quickly spread from Brazil to other parts of the world, including the U.S. In fact, cases increased from 61 in the U.S. in 2015 to more than 5,100 in 2016.(4) With transmission reported in 23 countries and territories of the Americas, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency.(5) Although cases have subsided in 2017, there is still not a proven vaccine for Zika virus.(6)
Though the Zika storm has calmed, Dengue fever is still ranked by the WHO as the most important mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. There are over 2.5 billion people in over 100 countries at risk of infection and 25,000 deaths annually worldwide.(7) Although there are about 400 million cases of Dengue fever every year, only 100 million show symptoms.(8) Dengue fever is also the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease with a 30-fold increase in global incidence over the past 50 years.
WNV is another mosquito-borne virus that’s frequently spread in the U.S. In 2016, 47 states reported instances of WNV, for a total of more than 2,000 cases.(9)
8 Tips To Keep Facilities Staff Safe
The best way to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases is to stay indoors where air conditioning is available or where all windows and doors have screens, or away from high-risk areas. However, that’s not always possible, especially for those who need to perform work outside of buildings. These individuals should understand precautions to take to stay safe from disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Employers should follow the below steps in their work environments:
1. Conduct a risk assessment. Before work begins, assess the area for mosquito population. Being able to differentiate between a low-risk zone and a high-risk zone can help managers understand if additional precautions need to be taken to reduce the mosquito population.
2. Eliminate mosquito eggs. Mosquitos often lay their eggs in bushes and in standing water. Managers should hire a mosquito exterminator to spray bushes near the worksite. To eliminate areas of standing water, employers should clean leaves and debris out of building gutters, make sure water doesn’t accumulate at the end of drain pipes and maintain outdoor faucets so they don’t leak. Wet outdoor landscape areas may need to be filled with dirt or other materials if water continually accumulates. Employers can also place larvicidal fish, which eat mosquito eggs, in nearby fountains or bodies of water.
3. Provide employees with insect repellent. Employers should provide outdoor workers with EPA-approved insect repellent that lists DEET or other EPA approved actives as a main ingredient. Workers should be encouraged to help each other apply repellent to hard-to-reach places like the back and neck. Remind employees to apply it to their face and hair as well, especially if they wear hats on the job, as sweat attracts bugs. Encourage employees to reapply repellant according to the instructions (usually every 4-6 hours) and remind them to wait for skin to dry before applying clothing. Homemade and non-tested repellent or remedies should be avoided because they often have little to no impact in repelling mosquitos and could potentially attract bugs instead.
4. Advise workers to wear appropriate clothing. Employees should wear long sleeved clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs and other exposed areas of skin. The clothing should be thick enough to prevent mosquito bites, but if this is not possible because of being in warm weather, workers should at least wear lightweight long sleeved clothing that covers skin.
5. Prevent mosquitos from coming indoors. If workers need fresh air in their work zones, install screens on all windows and doors. Employers should regularly check that screens are free of holes that may allow mosquitoes to enter. Spraying screens with repellant or insecticide can also help reduce mosquitoes getting into the building.
6. Educate employees on disease symptoms. Employers should remind employees to seek medical attention if necessary and provide a list of potential symptoms for various mosquito-borne diseases likely in their area. If the worksite is located in a high-risk zone for a specific disease, workers should see a doctor as soon as symptoms, such as a high fever, appear, rather than waiting to see if the symptoms resolve on their own. Consult a physician for recommendations specific to the area.
7. Schedule workers during certain times of the day. Some mosquitos only bite during the day, others only at night. Find out which type of mosquitoes are common near the worksite or facility to help schedule workers accordingly.
8. Provide additional equipment to keep mosquitos away. If workers need to sleep outside, provide treated mosquito nets. If nets are not treated with mosquito repellant beforehand, employers or workers should spray the nets as soon as they are set up.
A Safer Workplace
Like safety helmets, glasses and gloves, insect repellant is an essential piece of safety gear that keeps employees protected on the job. Adequate preparation, like assessing the area and taking preventive measures against mosquitos, is more cost-effective than expensive disease treatments or the cost of life. Create a healthier, more productive working environment by protecting employees and your organization by putting mosquitos out of work for good.
Teska is a global infection prevention application expert with Sealed Air’s Diversey Care division, a provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation, and hygiene solutions based in Charlotte, NC. HE holds a BS in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and a MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. He is currently working on his doctorate in public health (DrPH).