Lesson 1.5 Health & Safety Considerations

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Beekeeping is not for everyone. The two considerations we will cover in this lesson are physical fitness and reaction to honey bee stings. Use wisdom and common sense in regard to health and safety, and be innovative. 

Beekeeping has always required some degree of labor. The point of this lesson is to look realistically at what you can handle and how to put safety first.

image028Besides the number of hives you run, there are many methods of beekeeping and types of equipment that can drastically change the amount of lifting required. It may be possible to mechanize the whole process for commercial operations. Some hive workers may need to move 55+ lb boxes all day. A hobbyist with the right type of hive may never need to lift more than 45 pounds. To some extent, you can adapt your program to fit your abilities.

  1. Can you discipline yourself to eat, stretch, and exercise, and relax properly? Beekeeping can be part of this process.
  2. Consider past injuries or weaknesses.
  3. Many hands make light work. Will you have help when you need to move hives or full honey supers?
  4. Do you work ergonomically, lifting with your legs and holding heavy objects close to your body? Do you use the right tools for the right job?
  5. Stay hydrated while working, take breaks when needed, and keep body supplied with electrolytes.
  6. Know how to recognize symptoms of heat stroke: high body temperature, confusion, alteration in sweating, nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart, or headache.

Remember, one little injury can devastate your progress, but a little responsible prevention can contribute to years of productivity and enjoyment.

Never say “I can’t” – just don’t do anything stupid.

Bee stings and allergic reactionsimage036: If you keep bees, you will get stung, and at some point come to realize that a bee sting is not a big deal. If you are not willing to get stung, beekeeping might not be for you. At the same time, it always could become a big deal…

Chemical composition varies greatly between bee, wasp, hornet, and ant venom

  • Always use your veil to protect your head and neck in case of unexpected freak accidents.
  • Know how and when to use your smoker.
  • When stung, immediately remove the stinger which will otherwise continue to inject venom.
  • Remember that one sting produces a pheromone that stimulates more bees to sting.
  • Always have a plan if something serious should happen, i.e. cell phone reception and someone who can take you to the hospital if needed.
  • Immunity to stings often increases over time
  • Sudden severe reactions are possible

As a beekeeper you will want to be aware of the differences between a normal reaction to a bee sting, an allergic reaction, and a dangerous anaphylactic reaction, both for your own safety and those around you. Anything beyond a normal reaction is potentially dangerous. It is difficult to pin down any rules when it comes to such reactions. Follow the advice of medical professionals and do not take the general notes below as medical advice.

  • Normal reactions: initial stinging or burning sensation, local to severe swelling, itching, and soreness possibly lasting up to a week.
  • Allergic reactions: be cautious if you experience hives and rashes where you were not stung, eye or nose inflammation, nausea, or stomach cramps. Leave the apiary to avoid further stings, avoid exercise, drink plenty of water, and watch for further symptoms. You do not want to be alone with impaired judgment or unconsciousness.
  • Anaphylaxis can include one or more of the following, usually along with hives and rashes: abnormally low blood pressure, shock, dizziness, fainting, blurred vision, or breathing or swallowing trouble from swelling of the throat, mouth, or face.
  • If someone experiences anaphylaxis, it is recommended to inject epinephrine and call 911. Those who are severely allergic often know it and carry an epi-pen.
  • A recommended response for an unprotected non-beekeeper who finds himself being stung is to protect the head and neck and quickly flee to an enclosed area such as house or vehicle.
  • Somewhere between 0.05% and 2% of people in the U.S. are allergic to bee stings, and the average adult can safely tolerate over 1,000 stings at one time, medically speaking.
  • 100 Americans die yearly from bee stings, and this figure probably includes hornets and wasps.
  • The biggest danger is those instances when the whole hive is in an uproar, such as:
    Africanized Bees – genetically tuned to defend the colony in far greater numbers
    Hives knocked or blown over – especially if they land on or near an unprotected person
  • More information from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology on sting-related anaphylaxis
  • More information from USDA on responding to bee stings

Can you tolerate occasional stings? Are you or any of your family members highly allergic to honey bee venom?

Back to: Basic Beekeeping > Module 1: Important Initial Considerations