Lyme Disease and the Workplace

Lyme Disease in the Workplace

Did you know that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month? Yes, a full month dedicated to raising awareness of one of the fastest spreading diseases and the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the United States. However, while many may worry about their vacations, the workplace is a common place cited for Lyme Disease. It’s also one of the most dangerous.

What are Symptoms?

After early symptoms (stiff neck, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, and a rash near the point of infection), the following is where the disease takes effect and can become especially dangerous to the infected and the people around him or her.

Some of the most dangerous symptoms that come from Lyme are the detriment to concentration, processing speed, and movement. Andrea Gaito, MD, a rheumatologist specializing in Lyme, cited that patients experience blackouts and panic attacks, as well as complete inability to string together thoughts:

“People frequently tell me that they may go in on Tuesday and, when reviewing work from Monday, often find mistakes and can’t even make sense out of what they did only a day before,” Dr. Gaito says.

Dangers of Infection and Symptoms in the Workplace

If lack of concentration from an employee or coworker doesn’t scare you, we’re not too sure what we can do to help. Imagine the worker operating a crane or piece of construction machinery. This is why it is important to recognize the symptoms, sources of infection, and prevention measures.

Who’s at Risk?

Outdoor workers in all states are at risk for Lyme disease, which is spread by black-legged ticks which feed on small mammals.

Workers at risk of Lyme disease include, but are not limited to, those working in the following:

  • Construction
  • Landscaping
  • Forestry
  • Brush clearing
  • Land surveying
  • Farming
  • Railroad work
  • Oil field work
  • Utility line work
  • Park or wildlife management
  • Other outdoor work

What Can Employers do to Prevent Infection among Employees?

Employers should protect their workers from Lyme disease by taking these steps:

  • Provide training for workers that includes information about the following:
    • How Lyme disease is spread
    • The risks of exposure and infection
    • How workers can protect themselves from ticks
    • The importance of the timely reporting of workplace illnesses and injuries
  • Recommend that workers wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and hat when possible.
    • If worker uniforms are provided, provide long-sleeved shirts and long pants as options.
  • Provide workers with repellents (containing 20% to 30% DEET) to use on their skin and clothing for protection against tick bites.
  • Provide workers with insecticides (such as permethrin)to provide greater protection. Permethrin kills ticks and can be used on clothing (but not skin).
  • When possible, have workers avoid working at sites with woods, bushes, tall grass, and leaf litter.
  • When avoiding these sites is not possible, personal protective measures are of particular importance. If work in these higher-risk sites must occur, take the following steps to reduce tick populations:
    • Remove leaf litter.
    • Remove, mow, or cut back tall grass and brush.
    • Control rodent and small mammal populations.
    • Discourage deer activity.

Additional Resources

The Center for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have released guidelines and documents pertaining to Lyme in the workplace, shared below:

Protect Your Workers

No matter the season, no matter the industry, there are dangers in the workplace. From heat stress to cold stress, Lyme disease to Silicosis; dangers exist and are preventable.

Protect your workers at all times. Start by signing up for a complimentary e-newsletter that shares tips, tricks, and best practices for protecting your workers from hidden and unhidden dangers.

If you’re looking for hands-on advice and training to promote a culture of safety, contact us today.