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Drilling downturn takes its toll

Pennsylvania Jobs, Pennsylvania Energy Rally

Adaptability key to longevity for Washington County’s SunnySide Supply

Paul Battista looks for openings.

The founder and business manager of SunnySide Supply in Slovan in Washington County centered his business around openings. He saw a big one when shale-gas drilling took off nearly eight years ago and steered his company to that market.

SunnySide supplies oil and gas companies with industrial equipment, from hoses and safety equipment to coveralls and drinking water. The company, started in 1980, initially served solar panel manufacturers and the steel industry. It has 16 employees and four owners.

The Trib sat down with Battista to discuss his approach to business and how he adapted the business to changing markets.

Trib: When did you decide that you needed to shift into oil and gas from your original business plan?

Battista: The steel industry left town in the early ’80s, and from there we repurposed. We got to the point where we said, ‘Do we take early retirement or change directions?’ Back in ’04, I started watching and seeing activity in the oil and gas industry, test wells. I started talking to people in the rigs, driving the trucks; got to meet some people in the industry. In ’08, we decided to make the switch. We wanted to focus more on oil and gas at that point, and we started hiring more people, training more people. … I talked to a lot of people from other states that I was not in direct competition with, but would try to find other companies similar to ours.

Trib: How did you make the shift and decide where on the spectrum of shale gas production to specialize?

Battista: When we started looking at this industry, it got so big so fast, it’s hard to get your hands around it. We took big sheets of white paper, taped them to a wall and drew a horizontal line. Did we fit upstream, or did we fit downstream? That’s how we sorted it out … looking at safety, environmental products and products to keep the equipment running. I looked, ‘Where do we fit? And where is there a weakness in the industry?’ We found what their needs were going to be. We focused on gathering and gas processing, and what we can do to support that process.

Trib: With pipeline build-out, what’s the draw in supplying that side of the industry?

Battista: Midstream and gathering is starting to come into play now. It’s going to last and stay here long term.

It was a business strategy — do I want a lot of business up front, or do I want to take a little softer approach and work with the midstream companies for not as much (business) volume? That’s the direction we went. We take a lot less risk that way. … Midstream is a slower pace; maybe they have a little more time on their hands, but it’s a different pace.

Trib: What patent opportunities have you found in the industry?

Battista: There’s a lot of business happening in Pa. that’s related to this industry, and it gives a lot of people opportunities to seek patents. The (industry) is constantly looking for a better way to do something. I developed a set of steps that go into the trailer tanks. I’m on a third-generation prototype for the ‘spotter buddy,’ another product idea that came when I was sitting at a safety meeting. They put statistics up in our industry about how most people get hurt in a vehicle, or basically run over by a vehicle or machine on the site. The industry puts a spotter down on the ground. The spotter says how safe it is. They’re using hand signals day and night. We need a way to communicate from that spotter to the cab of that truck. The ‘spotter buddy’ looks like a phaser from Star Trek. The spotter pulls a trigger and says it’s safe to back up.

Trib: How are you coping with the industry slowdown?

Battista: In the last four months, our business is down about 20 percent, so we’re feeling the pinch. Our customers have asked us for concessions. We’re giving up bottom-line margins in hopes that we ride through this thing and these companies remember us.

Katelyn Ferral is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

SunnySide Supply: It’s time for ‘pulling back and seeking shelter’

As Paul Battista sees it, Gov. Tom’s Wolf’s policies are hindering the oil and gas sector, which the owner of industrial supply company SunnySide Supply Inc. believes has the potential to be the biggest driver of economic growth in the state.
“He needs to not be looking at his toes. He needs to be looking down the road,” Battista said.

Family-owned, SunnySide has been selling products for more than 30 years. It started out as a supplier of maintenance and operating goods for Pittsburgh-area manufacturers and institutions. But as the region’s shale gas fields have been developed, the company in Slovan, Washington County, has been shifting its focus more toward the oil and gas sector, selling general industrial and safety supplies.

Some of its customers are major gas producers and pipeline operators doing business in the region, including Consol Energy Inc. and MarkWest Energy Partners. However, Battista said his customer base is primarily made up of oilfield companies providing services to the larger producers and pipeline operators. So anything that diminishes drilling and pipeline construction impacts sales.

Low commodity prices already are pressuring the oil and gas sector. On top of that, there’s uncertainty arising from the potential for a severance tax on drilling and an expanded sales tax.

With the severance tax, Wolf has proposed a 5 percent charge on the value of produced gas, plus a 4.7-cent fee on every thousand cubic feet that’s drawn from the ground. The sales tax would be increased to 6.6 percent from 6 percent, plus several exemptions would be eliminated.

Battista said margins are thin, and new taxes will discourage investment.

“Now you add more overhead with the severance tax, and I just have a real strong feeling that the industry is going to pull back even more. People say they won’t leave because the gas is here. But if another play looks better from an economic standpoint, they’re going to move to another play,” he said.

Since Wolf took office, the permitting process for pipeline projects has slowed due to a more-rigorous regulatory approach, Battista said, and that has implications not only for his business, but the state overall.

“There are opportunities for people in the Philadelphia area to create downstream jobs in the petrochemical industry,” he said. “The plants are there, but what they need is the feedstock to process. We need to get the pipelines across the state so we can get the product there.”

He said small businesses such as his see a storm approaching and are deferring investments.

“So what does everybody do? You pull back and you seek shelter. That’s what I think everybody’s doing,” he said.

The company is looking to hire one person, but that’s only to replace someone else who had left, Battista said.

“If the industry and the economy looked better, we would hire a few more people, but right now the business and the industry is going in the other direction,” he said.

What They’re Saying: Higher Energy Taxes Will “Knock the Legs Out of Industry”

Community leaders, small businesses, and Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum continue their vocal opposition to Harrisburg’s plan for higher energy taxes that threaten the thousands of good-paying jobs and our region’s manufacturing potential.

Make no mistake, higher energy taxes will hit hard the countless small businesses across the Commonwealth that support the robust shale development supply chain. One of those small business owners, Paul Battista of SunnySide Supply, told lawmakers Friday that higher energy taxes “scare me” and those job-crushing proposals “could knock the legs out of industry.

Higher energy taxes will also risk a source of critical tax revenue for all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Fearing this loss, local leaders are telling Harrisburg not to “ditch” the shale impact taxes that are on track to provide nearly $830 million by April for local infrastructure and community-focused projects.

Echoing the concerns of local government officials from both political parties across the Commonwealth, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette writes this in a recent editorial: “We hope the Legislature can get past the politics of the severance tax proposal and leave the impact fee program alone.”

Here’s what they’re saying about job-crushing higher energy taxes:

THREATEN PA JOBS, SMALL BUSINESSES, MANUFACTURING

  • Higher Energy Taxes Will “Knock the Legs Out of Industry”: Many believe that if that tax is enacted, it would imperil the impact fee program created by Act 13 in 2012, which provides funding to counties and municipalities where drilling occurs. “The severance tax scares me,” said Paul Battista, business development manager for SunnySide Supply, a Slovan-based supplier of gas and oil services. “Our company plans well, but how are our clients planning? This could knock the legs out of industry, knock the legs out of companies that wouldn’t be able to pay bills.” (Observer-Reporter,3/27/15)
  • Higher Energy Taxes Threaten Pa. Growth, Jobs: House Speaker Mike Turzai convened an energy forum with some of his colleagues at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute on Friday morning. The goal? “Broadening the Pennsylvania natural gas energy industry,” said Turzai. The Speaker said expanding natural gas drilling would yield great benefits for this region. “We can grow this economy. We can continue to put family sustaining jobs on the ground. We can continue to develop our energy independence with the development of natural gas,” he said. Turzai, the top Republican in the state House, opposes Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed five percent tax on shale drilling to increase funding for public schools. “The governor’s approach is penal in nature. It’s punitive,” says Turzai. “I think it’s designed ultimately to shut down the industry particularly as it is already facing downward pressures.” (KDKA-TV, 3/27/15)
  • Supply Chain Businesses “Express Wariness Over” Higher Energy Taxes: Gov. Tom. Wolf’s proposed natural gas severance tax is, by a factor of two, the highest such tax in the U.S., Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky said Friday. … “I believe, at that rate, we would see further capital investment reductions and further layoffs,” he said. “I don’t think any of us want that.” … Participating in the panel discussion were several supply chain businesses who said development of the shale fields has presented new opportunities. They expressed wariness over a severance tax. Mark Caskey, president of Steel Nation Buildings, which builds compressor stations, said now isn’t the right time for such a tax because the industry is still maturing. “We’re in our infancy,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing.” … Dr. Anusha Kothandaraman, director of strategy for Braskem, said growth in natural gas production is stabilizing prices and keeping them low, giving U.S. manufacturing an advantage relative to other countries, where energy prices account for a greater share of the cost of production. (Pittsburgh Business Times, 3/27/15)
  • Higher Energy Taxes Put Small Business Expansion “On Hold”: [Frank] Puskarich, who started his barbecue business in Washington in 2007, said he has five locations and had “planned to open two more, but put that on hold” because of the severance proposal. “I want to see what will transpire with the new system.” (Observer-Reporter, 3/27/15)

LOCAL OFFICIALS FEAR LOSS 

  • Westmoreland Co. Officials “Fear Loss” of Impact Tax Revenues: Westmoreland County commissioners aren’t sure what to expect from Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to enact a severance tax on Marcellus shale gas well drillers. … “The biggest concern I have in Westmoreland County is the way Act 13 is set up, everyone would benefit. Money goes back to the municipalities and the county,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said. “If it goes to a severance tax, the money goes to Harrisburg and the general fund.” … Commissioner Charles Anderson said he opposes Gov. Wolf’s severance tax plan because it will hurt business. “Any time you put a tax on an industry, you slow it down,” Anderson said. “I’m opposed to any kind of tax. If he is going to replace Act 13 with any other scheme, I’m not in favor of it.” (Tribune-Review, 3/27/15)
  • Lawmakers Must “Leave the Impact Fee Program Alone”: The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania heard Wolf out at its meeting but has made retention of the impact fees its second highest priority. The reason is the one Wolf already stated it gives most of Pennsylvania a stake in the industry. Beyond that, the fee structure is based on reality, not politics. The majority of the impact fees go where gas wells are being drilled. … The impact fee program works and is one of the few state programs that is based on the realities of each year, with a clear formula for fair distribution. The county commissioners of Pennsylvania know what they have and we understand their position. We hope the Legislature can get past the politics of the severance tax proposal and leave the impact fee program alone. (Williamsport Sun-Gazette, 3/29/15)
  • “Don’t Ditch Act 13”: In Butler County, the Act 13 natural gas impact tax is working as planned. Numerous projects benefiting the community have already been funded with this tax that is paid for by the energy companies. … While the Local Impact Tax is often used to pay for projects that offset the impact of natural gas operations, such as road and bridge repairs, impact taxes are also being spent to benefit Butler County communities more broadly. For example, the county used money received through the legacy fund to improve Alameda Park and to support the Glade Run Lake restoration project. Evans City reduced its property tax rate for 2015 largely due to the borough’s natural gas revenues. Wolf has said he wants Pennsylvania to adopt a severance tax. But he should first take time to see the benefits provided by the current local impact taxes. A thorough understanding of how Pennsylvania’s existing energy taxes are helping our communities ought to be a prerequisite to making any changes that could ultimately hurt our local municipalities and their residents. (Butler Eagle op-ed, 3/26/15)
  • Local Communities Concerned About Higher Energy Taxes: Tom Wolf is pushing forward with his plan to replace the impact fee with a 5 percent severance tax, prompting some township officials to reconsider their future spending plans. … Mt. Pleasant Township’s municipal authority is moving forward with plans to use impact fee money to construct a sewage plant that would service about 650 homes. … Assuming that the impact fee is eliminated, allocations over the next year or two could be just enough to cover the cost of project designs, authority Chairman Paul Batista said. “If there’s one portion out of the Act 13 legislation that was correct, it was the impact fees that go to the impacted communities,” Batista said. “… Everyone across the state gets a portion of it, but the people who were impacted the most get the bigger portion. It couldn’t be any fairer.” … West Finley Township took a unique approach, and some of its impact fee money is going back into residents’ pockets this year. … David Martin, chairman of the board of supervisors, said supervisors felt it was important to keep taxes among the lowest in Washington County, and he said they plan to continue lowering taxes as long as the impact fee keeps flowing. Supervisors also were able to upgrade several pieces of township equipment – “projects that we probably would have had to do over five, six, seven years, as opposed to being able to do them over a two-year period,” Martin said. (Observer-Reporter, 3/15/15)

PA’S HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY

  • Must Remain an Energy Leader: “With our sizable reserves of natural gas, our manufacturing base and the number of small businesses involved, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to not only be a national energy leader, but an international leader,” said Speaker Turzai. “We need to develop energy in Pennsylvania and use it here.” … “You don’t go anywhere in Pennsylvania where people haven’t been positively impacted by natural gas,” [Turzai] said. Then pointing to the foursome, he added emphatically, “These are some employers who have benefited from natural gas, and there are many more. These are Pennsylvania jobs.” (Observer-Reporter, 3/27/15)
  • Pa.’s Future Bright with Right Energy Policies: [Dawn] Fuchs’ company, based in Carnegie, provides environmental services – many trucking-related – year-round and around the clock. Weavertown [Environmental] has felt a positive impact from the development of oil and gas in Western Pennsylvania. “We want to keep this in Pennsylvania,” she said. “The future is bright, but we have to be careful.” (Observer-Reporter, 3/27/15)

As Speaker Turzai said Friday, with the right policies in place “Pennsylvania has the opportunity to not only be a national energy leader, but an international leader.” Become a United Shale Advocate today and join the thousands of fellow Pennsylvanians strongly urging Harrisburg to focus on creating jobs, not higher energy taxes.

Local communities that benefit from Marcellus

If Washington County had a “shaleonaire” equivalent of the Forbes 500, Chartiers Township would be the Bill Gates of the list. With nearly $1.87 million collected over three years, Chartiers received the largest allocation in the county from Pennsylvania’s impact fee, which is paid annually by natural gas developers in lieu of a tax.

Chartiers officials plan to spend their money more hastily next year, while other municipalities hope to make it last. Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing forward with his plan to replace the impact fee with a 5 percent severance tax, prompting some township officials to reconsider their future spending plans.

The impact fee, which was established under Act 13 of 2012, has been a boon for struggling communities. Washington County and 66 municipalities within it raked in $40.5 million between 2011 and 2013, and Greene County and its 26 municipalities received $25.4 million during the same time period, according to an Observer-Reporter analysis based on information provided by the state Public Utility Commission.

Chartiers Township used 80 percent of its impact fee money to pay for road projects, including a costly investment in Allison Hollow Road repairs. Township Manager Jodi Noble said the township took out a loan to gradually pay off the debt, but plans to increase payments to $500,000 next year.

“We made a long-term borrowing (plan) based on using (impact fee) money to pay it back, so now we’ve upped our debt principal payment for the next year to start to pay that debt down in fear of the Act 13 money going away,” Noble said. “Here we thought we were being responsible and thinking long-term.”

With 63 wells, a cryogenic plant and gas meter station within its borders, Chartiers isn’t exactly turning a profit from the impact fee. The township decided to ramp up its emergency response measures after residents were evacuated twice in a seven-month span in 2014 due to a gas leak and fire at two natural gas facilities on Western Avenue.

Noble said those accidents prompted officials to use impact fee funds to purchase three emergency generators to place inside the fire department, police department and emergency evacuation center, which will soon be located in the community center.

“A lot of what we’ve used our money for is really mitigating the impacts of the industry that we felt,” Noble said.

Impact fee’s future uncertain

Mt. Pleasant Township’s municipal authority is moving forward with plans to use impact fee money to construct a sewage plant that would service about 650 homes. Township supervisors pledged to give the authority at least 50 percent of the Act 13 funds each year, unless they receive less than $50,000 in any given year.

The township, which received the third-largest slice of the impact fee pie in Washington County, contributed $1.1 million to the project so far. Assuming that the impact fee is eliminated, allocations over the next year or two could be just enough to cover the cost of project designs, authority Chairman Paul Batista said.

“If there’s one portion out of the Act 13 legislation that was correct, it was the impact fees that go to the impacted communities,” Batista said. “… Everyone across the state gets a portion of it, but the people who were impacted the most get the bigger portion. It couldn’t be any fairer.”

Wolf estimated a severance tax would generate up to $1 billion a year, and while most of the funds would go toward public education, he said some of the money would be used to maintain payments to municipalities affected by drilling.

The impact fee is distributed by the PUC, which uses a formula based on the number of wells, population and highway mileage in a county or municipality. Robin Tilley, spokeswoman for the PUC, said Wolf could theoretically create a bifurcated system in which the Department of Revenue would impose a severance tax while the PUC would continue to handle impact fees.

“The tax would be based on actual production, while the impact fees are based on the number of wells (determined by a number of factors like average natural gas price, vertical versus horizontal wells).” Tilley said in an email. “Again, we’re not sure what his plans are, and it could go either way.”

Making the difficult decisions

Many communities use impact fee money to fix run-down roads, but it’s far from the only option. West Finley Township took a unique approach, and some of its impact fee money is going back into residents’ pockets this year. Officials voted to use the funds to lower taxes by one mill for 2015, which cuts taxes by about $7,500 across the township.

David Martin, chairman of the board of supervisors, said residents might not notice the tax reduction. Nonetheless, Martin said supervisors felt it was important to keep taxes among the lowest in Washington County, and he said they plan to continue lowering taxes as long as the impact fee keeps flowing.

Supervisors also were able to upgrade several pieces of township equipment – “projects that we probably would have had to do over five, six, seven years, as opposed to being able to do them over a two-year period,” Martin said.

Townships that receive larger impact fee payments often face even tougher decisions. Members of the Slovan Volunteer Fire Department attended a recent Smith Township board meeting and took officials to task for giving them less money than the police department. More than $55,000 of the impact fee has been used for public safety and police department purchases in recent years, but the fire department has not received any money.

“In three years, Smith Township got almost $700,000 (from the impact fee). The fire department saw zero,” said fire Capt. A.J. Mondin.

“I don’t want you to think we’re being greedy here,” said fire Chief Brandon Kriznik, “but all these wells went in, and we take the brunt of it. We get called out with the wires down, the wrecks with these guys … those three years, we got nothing.”

After a lengthy and heated discussion, the township passed a motion to give the fire department $60,000 this year instead of the $25,000 that was originally pledged. Going forward, the board may implement a percentage-based allocation for the fire and police departments to make the distributions more equitable.

Drill-free, but feeling the impacts

Green Hills Borough doesn’t fit neatly into this discussion. In fact, Washington County’s least populous municipality is also dead last on the list of local impact fee recipients; the borough added just slightly more than $750 to its coffers between 2011 and 2013.

The borough sits on less than a square-mile of land, and it has only one road that stretches for about one-third of a mile. But it’s also surrounded by South Franklin and Buffalo townships, which have experienced a considerable amount of drilling.

“I think that the impact fee should be spread out a little more equally,” Mayor Terry George said. “We have no roads other than the one little road, but don’t our residents use Route 18? Don’t they use Mounts Road? And those roads are all impacted.”

George said there is no drilling in the borough, but he has a feeling that it may happen in the near future.

“I think there will be drilling soon under the golf course and the surrounding properties,” he said. “The wells are all around us now. I can look out my living room window, which overlooks the back nine of the (Lone Pine) Golf Club, and I can see two active wells from there.”

About 20 miles northeast of Green Hills, Peters Township is a different story. The township, which has a population of more than 20,000, is in the top 10 list of Washington County municipalities that received the largest share of the impact fee.

Like Green Hills, there are no wells within its borders, but officials say they are still feeling the impacts. Most of the impact fee money is being reinvested into damaged roads, which is the largest effect the industry has on Peters, township Manager Michael Silvestri said.

He said the township also underwent two “major rounds” of seismic testing studies, and there’s a facility in the township that stores trucks for the gas industry. Some horizontal drilling is conducted under Peters land, including the Trax Farms site in Union Township. Silvestri said Peters residents have complained about noise from that well site, which is a 24/7 operation.

In Greene County, Waynesburg Borough also has used most of its impact fee money – more than $140,000 a year – to repair damaged roads. The borough has not had any drilling activity.

“These trucks going through town are tearing up our streets,” borough manager Mike Simms said.

Though the trucks mainly drive on state roads, they also have used borough streets, such as East Street, to reach well sites outside of the borough, Simms said.

Heavy trucks also have damaged numerous curbs, which they regularly drive over attempting to make turns, Simms said. They have knocked down road signs and recently damaged a traffic light at the corner of Morgan and Greene streets.

The increased truck traffic has had an impact on the quality of life for some residents.

“We’ve had complaints about the noise,” Simms said, “the vibrations caused by trucks passing by, speeding and trucks running red lights.”

Staff writer Bob Niedbala contributed to this report.

Snakes, Ticks and Bees, Oh My! Be Careful, That Bite Could Kill You!

With Oil and Gas companies expanding their reach in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays, workers are finding themselves in more and more remote locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.  It is important for HS&E professionals and workers alike to recognize that as we break new ground in different areas, there is a natural population of wildlife that will need to be recognized and avoided.  This article will outline the safety issues that arise when coming in contact with venomous snakes, spiders, ticks and bees in the field, as well as the concerns surrounding what types of bug repellants can be used while onsite.

Snakes

There are 3 types of venomous snake species indigenous to Pennsylvania and Ohio, while West Virginia only has two venomous species.  All three states are known to have Northern Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnakes, and Pennsylvania and Ohio have a third venomous snake called the Eastern Massasauga.  All three of these venomous snakes are members of the pit viper family, are usually non-aggressive and like to avoid human contact whenever possible.  If you come across one of these snakes, it is important that you never try to handle or catch them, if left undisturbed they will either remain still until the person is gone or move away on their own.  You can immediately tell if a snake is venomous by the rectangular shaped head and slit-like pupils, and a table describing the venomous snakes in our area is included in this article.

Other than risking a serious bite, another reason to avoid contact with these snakes is that they could be endangered in your area and it might be against the law to handle them.  The Northern Copperhead is not endangered, the Eastern Massasauga is considered endangered in Pennsylvania and Ohio and the Timber Rattlesnake is considered “threatened” in Ohio and is a “candidate species” in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  A “threatened” species is on the brink of becoming endangered, and a “candidate” species is on the brink of becoming threatened.  As a result of these classifications, it is against the law to harm or kill these snake species.

Paying attention to your surroundings and being aware of what types of snakes might be in the area where you are working is the best way to avoid contact, but there are several products available to protect yourself if accidental contact is made with these animals.  Snake bite kits can be used to treat wounds if immediate medical attention is not available.  If you are bitten, immediate medical attention is required, but remote locations might need to have an initial treatment option on hand in the event of an emergency.  Other products include snake protection gaiters, chaps and pants.  These products act as a shield to protect the legs from snake bites, which is where most snake-related injuries are found.

Bees

Bee stings have been an occupational hazard for people working outdoors for centuries and workers in the Utica and Marcellus are no different.  The best way to protect from being stung by a single bee or attacked by an entire swarm is to avoid nests whenever possible.  If you do accidently come across a nest and it has not been disturbed, slowly and quietly move in the opposite direction.  If you have disturbed the nest and a swarm develops, it is important to remain as calm as possible.  Swatting or running seems to aggravate stinging insects, and killing certain types of bees will only bring more to the attack.  Try to shield your face with your arms and slowly move out of the danger zone, or lie down on the ground and remain still.  Once the bees feel as though they are no longer under attack, they will move on.  Many people think that getting to a source of water and jumping in will end the attack, but it is important to note that Africanized honey bees have been known to wait for their prey to surface and continue to attack.  Avoiding perfumed toiletries like hairspray and scented sunscreen, as well as suede or leather will help reduce risk, as bees are attracted to these types of odors.

If you are stung by a bee, or several bees, the first step is to make sure that the stinger is removed from the skin.  After a bee sting, the stinger remains in the skin and can continue to inject venom into the victim.  Once the stinger is removed, apply ice or a cold compress for comfort, and a histamine blocker like Benadryl will help to reduce swelling.  If a severe allergic reaction occurs, the affected worker must be transported to a medical facility as soon as possible.  Although rare, bee stings can be fatal to people who are severely allergic.  If you have a known bee allergy and work in the field, be sure to notify your supervisor of the allergy and always be prepared by carrying an epinephrine auto-injector, commonly referred to as an EpiPen.

Spiders

There are two types of venomous spider that can be found in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.  All three states are known to have Northern Black Widow and Southern Black Widow spiders.  These widow spiders are very similar, but the difference can be seen in the markings.  Both species are jet black in color, and have a bright red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen.  All widow spiders will also have red or white spots running down the middle of their backs, as well as white stripes that can run diagonally down the sides of the abdomen.  The difference between a Northern and Southern Black Widow can be seen in the hourglass marking on the abdomen.  The Northern Black Widow’s bright red hourglass marking usually appears incomplete, with the bottom half and top half separated.  The Southern Black Widow will have the same hourglass marking, but it is usually complete and has more rounded corners.

Northern and Southern Black widow spiders are usually non aggressive, and will only attack if they feel threatened.  It is also important to note that only the females of the species are venomous, males are considered largely harmless.  If bitten by either type of Black Widow, the CDC recommends cleaning the bite area, wrapping a tight bandage around the bite to slow the venom’s spread and seeking immediate medical attention.  If possible, keep the site of the bite elevated to reduce swelling.  Although Black Widow bites are usually not life threatening, a doctor may want to treat some bites with some form of anti-venom.

Ticks

One of the biggest problem insects to look out for while in the field is another member of the arachnid family, the tick.  There are several hundred types of tick species known worldwide, with over 25 species located in Pennsylvania.  Ticks are not venomous, but carry and transmit several types of bacteria and diseases which can lead to long term health problems or even death if not properly treated.  Diseases transmitted by ticks include, but are not limited to, Erlichiosis, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tick Paralysis and Lyme disease.  Information on these diseases and their symptoms can be found by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.

According to the CDC website, the best way to prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is to wear light colored clothing, tuck pant legs into socks, check the body throughout the day for the presence of ticks, to use tick repellants and to take a hot shower as soon after work as possible.  If an embedded tick is found on your body, use forceps or tweezers to remove the tick from the skin.  Make sure to grab the tick as close to the head as possible, as squeezing from the middle can cause toxins to be injected into the body.  Use medium pressure to extract the tick, if the head separates while still in the skin, seek medical attention.  If symptoms such as ring-like rash around the bite or red-purplish rash at the ankles or wrists appear, seek immediate medical attention.  The symptoms could be a result of Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Prevention

There are several products available today that help to repel bugs, but not all of them are designed to repel ticks.  Insecticides containing Permethrin or DEET are usually the most effective in keeping you safe from ticks.  DEET is the active ingredient in several repellants, while Permethrin is most commonly used to treat clothing.  It is important to read all labels and even contact manufacturers directly to make sure that these types of repellants can be used safely with flame-resistant clothing.  In most cases, as long as the chemicals are not applied via aerosol and are given enough time to dry, they are not considered flammable.  It is best to use DEET in an applied form, such as a wipe or a cream, as the aerosol properties of most repellants are flammable.

Being aware of the dangers in your work environments is the first step in keeping you and your workers protected.  Hopefully this article has given you some insight as to what to look for while working in remote areas, and in some cases, in areas that are not remote at all.  More information can be found on all of the topics listed above by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov and the Mayo Clinic Website at www.mayoclinic.com.

By Chris Chadwick, Safety Products Coordinator at SunnySide Supply, Inc.  www.SunnySideSupply.com

References:

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”  (n.d.).  Web.  15 May 2012. http://www.CDC.gov

“The Mayo Clinic.” (n.d.). Web. 18 June 2012.  www.mayoclinic.com

“Venombyte.” (n.d.). Web. 19 June 2012.  www.venombyte.com

“Tandem Training and Tracking.” (n.d.). Web. 19 June 2012.  www.tandemtrainingandtracking.com

“United States Department of Agriculture.” (n.d.). Web. 20 June 2012.  www.usda.gov