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Yellow jacket swarm causes fear in allergic employee

Though insects swarm the office and an employee is allergic, the manager doesn't see the problem as a big deal; the worker wants to know if a federal agency would get involved. 

A worker who is allergic to stings says

A worker who is allergic to stings says management has failed to deal with the problem. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock / Dawn Evans

DEAR CARRIE: I work for a food manufacturer. For the past month the office has been infested with yellow jackets.  I was told that the warehouse was not following procedures, which call for it to dispose of certain food products in secure dumpsters. As a result the yellow jackets have swarmed the disposal area and made their way to the roof and into the air-conditioning vents.

I am scared of bees and am also allergic to them. We've had the exterminator in a few times. He said we need to put screens on the air-conditioning openings on the roof of the building where the bees are coming in. Senior management does not seem concerned about bees flying around and doesn't think the screens are needed.  

My boss is not afraid.  She said if she gets stung, she'll just put toothpaste on the sting and move on.  I am terrified of bees, and the big room where most of us sit is the most affected.  I've had a couple of scares. A bee landed in my hair, and one chased me around the office. Once, I borrowed a laptop and confined myself to the conference room.  But in order to continue working apart from my area, my boss said she needed a note from my doctor stating that I'm allergic to bee stings. I got one right away.  As it turns out, I couldn't spend much time in the conference room because of meetings, so my boss said I could stay in a former kitchen area.  For some reason those rooms are not affected. 

Though I have options, I'm shocked and offended by management's lack of concern about this.  My co-workers who remain in the affected area are not happy, and they are dealing with having to kill bees every day.  There are at least a dozen bees a day that fly in.  I am not free of the bees, either. I still have to walk into the main affected area to get my work off the printer and to get my files.  I've sprayed Hikers' Guard on myself on a daily basis just to try to keep the yellow jackets away.  The first day I encountered them again I left early because I was so scared.  I hope bee season ends soon. I'm stressed out walking through the office.  Is this problem serious enough to be an OSHA issue? -- Scared

DEAR SCARED: It probably is, according to the head of the local office of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

"OSHA has certainly investigated bee sting instances, and in many cases they have been fatal," said Tony Ciuffo, area director of OSHA for Long Island.  "This is certainly a concern when the employer has already been alerted that they have an employee that is allergic to bee stings."

OSHA's general industry standard as stated in Book 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, says: “Every enclosed workplace shall be so constructed, equipped and maintained, so far as reasonably practicable, as to prevent the entrance or harborage of rodents, insects and other vermin.  A continuing and effective extermination program shall be instituted where their presence is detected.”

He said you can file a complaint at osha.gov or call the local office at 516-334-3344.

I also checked with a workplace expert on the message that management's nonchalant attitude is communicating to employees. She sees long-term damage to morale.

 "By not addressing the hazard, the management is basically saying to the staff, 'We don't care about you or your safety,' " said Rita Maniscalco, a Huntington-based career, life and business coach. "Employees will not be able to do their best work in this environment. The morale of the team is sure to suffer."

And what's worse, she said, "Management's blatant disregard for the safety of the staff will be remembered long after the bees are gone."

Go to bit.ly/BuzzLI for more on OSHA regulations regarding insects in the workplace. 

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