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Working with wild animals provides some unique risks to employees.

Byline: Patricia L. Harman, PropertyCasualty360.com

Not everyone's job involves venomous snakes, hairy spiders or hungry alligators, but for employees who work outside or in unique confined spaces, the dangers can be very real.

At the recent Workers' Compensation Educational Conference (WCEC) in Orlando, Fla., Tim Williams, the "dean of gator wrestlin'" and director of media productions for Gatorland in Orlando demonstrated how he handles some of his "co-workers."

$350,000 Workers' Comp claim

Williams, who has been working with animals for more than 40 years, recounted one time when he was bitten by a rattlesnake as he was doing a demonstration. He was rushed to the hospital, where he spent some time recuperating. "I should have been dead, but I received excellent care," he said. Following several months off of work, physical therapy, and a $350,000 Workers' Comp claim, he was back at work. "Never underestimate the value of Workers' Comp," he said.

The animals for his live demonstrations travel in common carriers like canvas bags and tool boxes. One time on his way to New York City, Williams was stopped along the New Jersey Turnpike for speeding. There were several large bags in his truck holding alligators and when the policeman asked if he was carrying any contraband like guns, drugs or anything else he should know about, Williams told him with a straight face, "No." The officer opened one of the bags and quickly zipped it up when he saw the alligator inside.

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Williams defused the situation by gently pulling the gator out and letting the officer pose for a picture with it on the side of the road. Soon, troopers from around the area were stopping by for a photo opportunity. Williams only got a warning and eventually a police escort into the city.

Williams and a brave volunteer handle a four-year-old alligator. (Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Alligators

American alligators live in the Southeast, mainly in areas ranging from the southern tip of Texas to North Carolina. They have about 80 teeth, bite down at a rate of 3,000 pounds per square inch and can rip a human's arm off in seconds.

Alligators usually lay 25-40 eggs, which take about 65 days to hatch. In Florida, there are heavy fines for people who feed, catch or kill alligators. It is illegal to remove an alligator from its natural habitat or to feed it in the wild.

While they normally reside in marshes, lakes, rivers and swamps, in heavily populated areas they've been known to wander onto golf courses and roadways, as well as into neighborhoods and pools. They can be very aggressive during their breeding season (April through May), but usually will not chase people or animals on land. However, if you encounter an alligator, walk away slowly and try not to get between it and the body of water (marsh, swamp or river) it came from since that may be its escape route.

(Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Spiders

This Chilean Rose Hair tarantula looks scarier than it really is. While it is native to the dessert areas in Chile, they have become popular pets because they require little care and feeding. Volunteer Lacey let this tarantula roam up and down her sweater.

While non-venomous, one should use care when handling or being around them since they can release tiny hairs that can become embedded in eyes and skin.

(Photo: Miles Boyer/Shutterstock)

Brown recluse spider

The brown recluse is a venomous spider that can be found in the Midwest and Southeast. One of its most notable features is the inverted violin pattern that appears on its head with the base of the violin appearing near its mouth and the neck of the violin pointing to the body.

Usually these spiders are not aggressive, but their venom is extremely poisonous. They like dark, warm, dry places such as attics, closets, woodpiles, basements and barns. Frequently an individual is unaware he or she has been bitten because the bites are painless. There may be minor itching and a small blister may appear at the site of the bite. Other symptoms include: severe pain at the bite site (about 4 hours after the bite), severe itching, nausea, vomiting, fever and muscle pain. Some bites may heal over a few days or weeks; others may have more severe symptoms like blistering and lesions.

If someone has been bitten by a brown recluse, it is wise to see a doctor that day. Bringing the spider will help in identifying what type of spider was involved.

According to WebMD, after a spider bite from a brown recluse the individual should apply ice to reduce the pain and swelling, take acetaminophen for pain relief, elevate the area above the heart if possible, wash it thoroughly with soap and water, and avoid any strenuous activity since that could spread the spider's venom. However, none of these steps should be taken in place of seeking medical attention.

(Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Bearded Dragon

Williams says these make great pets, but recommends reading about them before bringing them home. They have small teeth, rough skin and like to be up high. Here, Chris lets the bearded dragon perch on his head.

(Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Blue-tongued Skink

Annalisa wasn't too enthralled with the blue-tongued skink. They are found in Australia, where they live on boulders and like to eat bugs. Their bodies are extremely flexible, which allows them to move easily over all sorts of terrain. They can live up to 20 years. Adjusters probably won't encounter too many of these in their travels unless they are someone's pet.

(Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Monitor Lizard

Although native to Africa, Asia and Australia, monitor lizards are breeding and multiplying in south Florida because they started out as pets that were then released into the wild.

They can bite and scratch, can swim and walk on land. The lizards can swallow their prey whole if it is small enough and they eat eggs, meat, birds and snakes.

(Photo: P. Harman/PropertyCasualty360.com)

Columbian Red-tailed Boa Constrictor

A transplant from Central and South America, boas and their cousins the python are frequently purchased as small pets and kept until their owners don't want to feed and care for them. Williams says many prospective owners now have to get a permit to own boa constrictors and pythons.

According to the National Park Service, approximately 2,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades National Park since 2000 and there are estimates that tens of thousands of them currently reside in south Florida. They have no natural predators and their proliferation is changing the delicate balance of the Everglades ecosystem. Obviously, a snake of this size can either suffocate its prey or leave a very nasty bite mark.

Individuals working outside, in and around the water, or in other unusual settings will have unique Workers' Compensation claims requiring a little more investigation in order to understand the dangers and issues involved.

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Publication:Property and Casualty 360
Date:Aug 31, 2015
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