OUTDOOR WORKERS, INSECT-RELATED INJURIES, AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Many Occupations which involve “Outdoor Work.”   “Outdoor Work” exposes workers to insects.  Particularly in the outdoors, there are insects that can either carry illnesses or can exact injuries.  The common method of transmission of these illnesses or injuries are “bites.”   The severity of an Insect Bite Injuries can range from mild to fatal.  A Insect Bite, in the workplace, can bring rise to a workers’ compensation claim and entitlement to both monetary benefits and medical care.

Human succumbing to diseases related to insect exposure has become more prevalent.   Irrespective of work-relatedness, insect-related disease cases have tripled from 2004 to 2016.  Further, there have been new germs [that are insect related] which have been either discovered or introduced since 2004.   CDC

The increase in these types of cases is explained by a vibrant economy and tourism in that “[c]ommerce moves mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas around the world; Infected travelers can introduce and spread germs across the world; and Mosquitoes and ticks move germs into new areas of the US, causing more people to be at risk.”  CDC

This article will discuss “Outdoor Work,” the types of insect exposures that occur in the workplace, and the types of injuries that can occur in the workplace. The article will discuss special laws that apply to certain insect bite injuries as well as caselaw of interest with respect to insect bites.

What Type of Occupations Involve “Outside Work?”

There is a large variety of occupations that involve “outdoor work.”  Occupation Groups with “outdoor work” can include Agriculture, Construction, Fire and Safety, Forestry, Landscaping, Law Enforcement, Lifeguard. Mining, Prison, and Refining,

How Common Are Insect Bite Injuries?

Per the ACAAI, “[t]housands of people enter hospital emergency rooms or urgent care clinics every year suffering from insect stings. It has been estimated that potentially life-threatening allergic reactions occur in 0.4% – 0.8% of children and 3% of adults. At least 90 – 100 deaths per year result from insect sting anaphylaxis.”   Some of these individuals were working at the time they were stung.

What Are Common Insect Bites?

Per the ACAAI, “[t]he majority of insect stings in the United States come from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and honeybees. The red or black imported fire ant now infests more than 260 million acres in the southern United States, where it has become a significant health hazard and may be the number one agent of insect stings.”

What Are the Consequences of Insect Bites and Insect Bite Allergies?

Per the ACAAI, “[t]he most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. This condition requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include one or more of the following: Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site, Abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea, Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing, Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing.

An even more severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis can occur within minutes after the sting and may be life-threatening. A dose of epinephrine (adrenaline), typically administered in an auto-injector, and immediate medical attention are required. Symptoms may include: Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure [or] Loss of consciousness or cardiac arrest.”   It should be noted that “People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.”.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has reported on a tragic story of a date palm tree worker who died after he was attacked by multiple bees at an organic orchard in Southern California.

What Insects are Problematic?

Some of the problematic insects include bees, fleas, mosquitos, and ticks.

What Types of Diseases Can Rise from Insects?

Mosquito-borne diseases can include California Serogroup Viruses, Chikungunya Virus, Dengue Viruses, Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, Malaria Plasmodium, St. Louis Encephalitis Virus, West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever Virus, and Zika Virus.

Tickborne Diseases can include Anaplasmosis/Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Lyme Disease, Powassan Virus, Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis, and Tularemia.

Flea-borne disease can include the Plague.

Can Bites Cause Other Injuries?

Yes. Sometimes the bite itself can cause injury.  For example, there are Africanized Honey Bees.  They have a venom that can impact various human organs. Further, a multitude of bites cause anaphylactic shock due.

Other bites of concern include fire ant bites, hornet bites, scorpion bites, and wasp bites.

If Someone is Allergic to Insect Bites and They are Bitten at Work and Sustain Illness, Is it Work-Related?

Yes.  Pre-existing conditions do not bar an Injured Worker from making a workers’ compensation claim.   An aggravation or acceleration of an underlying condition can be considered as a work injury.  Therefore, a Worker who is allergic to particular insect bites could be able to claim an injury if they were bitten while at work.

Are There Statutes Which Protect Injured Workers Who Sustain Work-Related Insect-Bites?

Yes.  There are two statutes which protect certain Police and Safety Personnel with respect to certain types of insect bites.

There is a statute that provides for a statutory presumption for Lyme Disease, Labor Code Section 3212.12, which applies to certain Police, Safety and Conservation Corps members. For an article on the Lyme Disease Presumption click here.

There is a statute that does not specifically address insect bites but does address some insect bite injuries.   There is a statute that provides for blood-borne illnesses.   This statute applies to insect-bites in that some of them involve a blood borne transmission of a disease or illness.   In those circumstances, the presumption would therefore apply to an insect bite.   Labor Code Section 3212.8 provides a blood borne disease presumption to certain Safety and Law Enforcement Officers.   For an article on the Blood Borne Disease Presumption, click here.

Is There Case Law Concerning Insect Bites?

Yes. There are various issues relating to insect bites in the workplace.

There are issues of whether the bite should be considered as a work-related event.

LYME DISEASE: In the matter of County of Mendocino vs. WCAB (1995) 60 C.C.C. 220, the “WCJ found that Applicant sustained a tick bite while employed by Defendant but could not conclude whether Applicant presently had Lyme Disease. However, the WCJ stated that the medical history was clear that the problems Applicant had were the result of the tick bite in question, and whether or not it was called Lyme Disease, the medical evidence clearly showed that, from this tick bite, Applicant suffered damage, including lost time from work and need for medical treatment, as well as possibly the need for future medical treatment.

WEST NILE VIRUS: In Leggette vs. CPS Security (2020) 85 C.C.C. 321(Board Panel Decision) the WCAB found that Applicant sustained an injury for West Nile Virus when Applicant bitten by mosquitos while working as a security guard at a construction site.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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