If you?ve ever had to do environmental fieldwork, then you know that there are biological?dangers involved, including spiders, snakes, scorpions, alligators, snapping turtles, wasps, mosquitoes large enough to carry off chihuahuas, and the occasional field partner that forgets to wear deodorant.

I?ve come across my fair share of these hazards, and although I?ve never ended up in the?back of an ambulance, merely being in the presence of some of these creatures was enough to make me tear off in the opposite direction, arms flailing about like those inflatable dancing men outside of car dealerships?and screaming like a banshee.

I?m absolutely sure this is not what my site-specific health and safety plan told me to do, but fear and subsequent pig-being-chased-squealing comes from a lack of preparedness. So, in an effort to help you be more prepared, and so that your co-workers aren?t able to blackmail you in the future for such behavior, let?s take a look at one of these hazards?that are found in the United States??- venomous snakes?–?and what you should do if you come into contact with them.

Four types of venomous snakes in the US

There are four types of venomous snakes?in the US (rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth, and coral snake), with 20 sub-species in different geographical areas, climates, and habitats. Rattlesnakes will avoid wide open spaces and will generally avoid humans if they are aware of their approach.?Of the venomous species, the copperhead and cottonmouth are likely to strike first with the least amount of provocation. Coral snakes are shy and will almost always flee before they bite.?That said, if you are bitten, get help immediately.?Coral snake venom is extremely potent, and although it’s possible you will not notice visible fang marks or swelling, your nervous system will be under attack. King snakes can mimic the coral snake, so make sure to learn the difference. “Red next to black is a friend of Jack, red next to yellow will kill a fellow!”?Even if snakes are believed dead, exercise caution, as heads can see, flick the tongue, and inflict venomous bites for up to an hour after being severed from the body!

Rattlesnake

Copperhead

Cottonmouth

Coral Snake

What to do if you or someone else is bitten by a snake

  • Try to see or remember the color and shape of the snake (because it?s not like you have anything else on your mind). A great resource for identifying various snakes and other creatures you might encounter in the field is www.eNature.com.
  • Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom. Don?t feel bad when the person hits you upside the head for telling him/her to stay calm.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible/dial 911.
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get the person to the hospital right away.
  • Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
  • Tell the person to avoid walking into any bright white lights he/she may be seeing.
  • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing (please note the clean/dry part, as this is not a moment to MacGyver some sort of dressing out of fell-on-the-floor-of-a-Port-o-Potty toilet paper or leaves, particularly the three-pointed leaflet variety).

What NOT to do if you or someone else is bitten by a snake

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it unless you are a masochist.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife (duh).
  • Do not suck out the venom (mmmm?).
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Absolutely do NOT try to lighten the mood by singing songs like “Who Let the Dogs Out”, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It”, “She Bangs”, or “Rico Suave”.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a pain killer. You shouldn?t have alcohol (other than the rubbing kind) in your field truck anyway.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages (no stopping for a Venti Latte on the way to the hospital).

Have you ever encountered biological hazards in your job? If so, we?d love to hear your story!


Written by: Karen Baer

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