Are Wasps a Safety Hazard for Painters?
When I was on the field and painting exteriors, I had numerous encounters with wasps and their nests. Considering that I was painter for 20 years, I find it incredible that I was never stung by one. I was painting high on ladders right next to active nests, I even had wasps land on my arms. I actually had to wait for them to move over so that I can paint the ledge they were resting on. I proudly called myself the wasp whisperer.
It turns out there was a reason that wasps did not sting me. They sense danger and only attack you when they feel threatened. In fact, the best defense for not being attacked is to stay still. I know, this is easier said than done but if you are not a threat, they will leave you alone.
Lastly, if you are close to them, do not try to harm them, as you will set off an alarm scent that will attract other wasps to help.
What Exterior Painters need to know about Wasps
Painters working outside during the busy season can come very close to wasps nests. Working around them, however common, can be a serious safety issue for painters. Painting safely on a ladder is not possible when you have wasps buzzing around you. Unless you want to avoid exterior work all together, you will encounter these misunderstood creatures. Knowing about them and knowing what to do in case they sting you, is a matter of safety.
Wasps are in the same insect family as bees and in some ways look similar. Confusing them is understandable since most of them have black and yellow stripes.
There are 3 types of wasps: paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. The most common ones that painters encounter are paper wasps and yellow jackets. They are interesting insects with a slender body and a narrow waist. They are not to be confused with our fuzzy honey makers, the Bees. They are definitely a lot less friendly than the bees.
During the late summer and fall, wasps are the most aggressive and they try to scavenge sweets and other carbohydrates. For that reason they frequent the areas where food and drinks are served. When working close to them avoid sugary drinks and snacks. During lunch keep drink and food containers closed and remove the garbage afterwards.
The safest time around them would be at the end of the day or during night time. They are less active at night because they can not see in the dark. Painters can’t see in the dark either but some of the work can be done just before nighttime.
How to Behave Around Wasps
When you first started looking for a painting job, wasps was the last thing that crossed your mind. Learning how to behave around them is an important safety consideration. You are up high on an extension ladder trying to paint a window. If you get attacked by wasps, you don’t have many choices. In fact, your only choice is to get away, slowly and safely. What is safe for the wasp is also safe for the painters, which is avoiding a confrontation. Do not harm them, If they feel threatened they will attack and sting you. Yellow jackets will not attack someone that moves predictably slow. You are safe even if they land on you. It’s the quick arm movements such as swatting that they perceive as dangerous. When they are threatened they let each other know through the use of pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals that they release into the environment and received by the other wasps.
Avoid wearing white and yellow clothing, these are colours that attract insects. Painters wear whites, I wonder if that’s worth reconsidering when working in proximity of wasps. Perfumes hair products and other fragrances should be avoided.
What to do if they sting you
You have taken all safety precautions, yet the wasps are not very reasonable. You are stung!
Most people display these symptoms: Initially you feel a sharp pain, almost like a burn. Right after, there is some swelling followed by redness and itching.
If you are stung by a wasp, follow these 3 easy steps and it will relieve your pain:
- Apply a damp cloth dipped in cold water or an ice pack wrapped in cloth over the site of the sting for about 15-30 minutes.
- Clean the site with the help of soap and water, then soak a clean cotton ball or paper towel in acidic solution (lemon juice or vinegar), then apply onto the surface of the sting, which will bring relief.
- Use a topical lotion, such as calamine to soothe the infected area.
The pain and swelling should get better in a few hours. If it’s still the same or worse the next day, you may be allergic to it, go see a doctor. Most allergies are not life threatening and the doctor may suggest an over the counter antihistamine.
A rare few experience anaphylactic shock which can be life threatening. Anaphylaxis is the condition when your body goes into shock after a wasp sting. When that happens you will know fairly quickly, so get emergency help immediately. Some symptoms of severe allergic reactions
- Swelling of the face and lips
- Swelling of the throat
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded and nauseous
- Difficulty breathing
- Itchiness and hives in unrelated places
- Stomach cramps
Some people that have a history of severe allergies and anaphylaxis, carry a kit that contain EpiPen injections.
Residential painters working on exteriors encounter wasps often. Knowing how to behave around them is an important safety consideration.