Tailboard: Animal Safety

Effective utility vegetatiomanagement (UVM) begins and ends with safety. It’s a founding principle of ACRT, Inc., and we strive to uphold it in everything we do.

Staying safety conscious extends across all aspects of UVM. It’s not just the tools and techniques you use every day—it’s understanding your environment, too. Animal encounters may not always be at the forefront of your mind, but they’re no less an ever-present safety threat. Do you know the best way to minimize your chances of a deer strike while driving from site to site? The proper protocols for entering a residential yard with a dog?

Read on as we take stock of some of the more common creatures found where UVM workers perform their duties, and the essential safety tips you should know in the event of an encounter.

Deer
UVM workers spend a significant amount of time in their vehicles on their way from site to site. Coming into contact with deer while driving isn’t uncommon; the Insurance Information Institute estimates that 1.6 million deer/vehicle collisions occur each year, resulting in 200 casualties. Whether in the city, suburbs, or further out into the wilderness, deer strikes pose a safety hazard that UVM workers must take care to avoid. This is especially true during deer mating (or “rutting”) season, typically coinciding with autumn, when deer are at their most active. This typically occurs around the same time crops are harvested.

  • Unpredictability. Deer are wild animals— if you see one standing calmly near the road, it may just as well decide to bolt toward your vehicle rather than away from it. Be aware, and be careful.
  • Where There’s One, There are Many. While not a hard and fast rule, a single deer sighting is typically indicative that more deer are nearby out of eyesight. If you spot one crossing the road, prepare for the possibility of several more to follow.
  • Location. Deer populations and the potential for a strike are higher depending on your state. Some of the most likely states for deer collisions include West Virginia, Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
  • Time of Day. Deer are generally most active in the early morning and at dusk—be extra careful if commuting at those times.
  • Minimize damage. In the case that a deer strike appears unavoidable, it’s best to slow down as much as possible to minimize collision impact. DO NOT swerve out of the way—not only may this spook the deer, it may send your vehicle off the road or into a far worse collision.
  • If the worst happens… In the event of a strike, pull over to the side of the road (if possible), put on your hazards and alert the authorities. DO NOT attempt to remove the deer, as an injured deer is dangerous and may very well harm you.

Dogs
While we know canines are “Man’s Best Friend,” approaching an unfamiliar dog has the potential for serious injury. Dogs continue to be a major threat to ACRT’s foresters, and it’s why we place significant importance on dog bite prevention training in our operations. Nearly 5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, highlighting the need for following appropriate protocol in an encounter.

Sometimes entering a site with a dog is unavoidable—but there are ways that UVM managers can minimize the potential for an attack when approaching or entering a site with a dog.

  • Detecting a dog. Evaluate any site you enter for the presence of a dog. If you’re unsure if there is a dog on site check for the telltale signs: food/water bowls, toys, chains or ties, dog doors, worn trails in the yard.
  • Maintain awareness. Even if a dog is chained up, or is thought to be inside a structure, a dog may still be able to free itself. Don’t assume the owner has full control of a dog.
  • Enter with caution. Dogs are provoked when startled or frightened, triggering the “fight or flight” response. If entering a yard, alert a potential dog to your presence: make some noise—rattling a fence, your keys, or sounding your car horn.
  • Approaching doors. Dog attacks often happen at front doors. Dogs have the advantage of being aware of your approach, screen doors can be poor barriers, and dogs may be able to push through a solid door. Standing approximately 6 feet from the door upon approach allows you reaction time if necessary. ACRT’s key message to our employees: It is your right and obligation to ask the owner to restrain his or her dog before entering the premises.
  • Self-defense. If the worst happens and a dog attacks, minimize the possible damage. Use pepper spray if you have it. Don’t turn and run; but attempt to lock eyes and firmly tell the dog “NO!” If the dog continues to approach, turn to the side to minimize your exposure. Put something between you and the dog—if nothing else is available, use your forearm. A dog’s weak areas are its feet, legs and throat; strike these areas if attack continues.

Bears
The likelihood of encountering a bear may be less likely than a dog or deer, but is potentially more dangerous if the wrong action is taken during an encounter. Bears aren’t always the immediate, vicious threat they’re sometimes perceived as—they certainly don’t hunt for humans, but will attack if threatened.

  • Remain calm. If you’ve come across a bear, it’s likely by accident. Your best course of action is to remain calm, refrain from making sudden movements, and back away slowly.
  • Minimize perceived threat. A bear’s natural tendency is to reduce or remove a threat—so act as non-threatening as possible.
  • Identify yourself. Bears do not tend to attack humans as long as they’re perceived as such—so act like a human. Speaking in low tones and slowly waving your hands in the air to make yourself appear larger can accomplish this. Give the bear the opportunity to leave.
  • Don’t run. The “back away calmly” part is important—if you run, the bear’s natural, wild-animal response is to chase you.

Other Creatures
Keep an eye out for the following animals as well; while they may be less of a threat, or encounters less common, knowing how to handle an encounter goes a long way in avoiding an attack or injury.

Snakes. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, poisonous snake bites in the United States cause fewer deaths each year than bee or wasp stings? Nevertheless, the simplest tip to avoiding a snake bite is to leave any snake alone. Don’t try to capture or kill it, as 70-80 percent of bites occur this way. Wearing 8” boots is a good precaution; 90 percent of bites happen in the ankle area while inadvertently stepping near a snake.

Wild/feral pigs. Though classically found in the South, wild pig populations have spread across approximately 39 states. While not inherently dangerous, they can be a threat if cornered. Making quick movements or sounds will usually cause the pig to go off in a different direction.

Mountain lions. Precautions for these potentially dangerous cats are much similar to that of a bear. Don’t approach; attempt to make yourself appear larger and speak in a loud voice; and never, ever run. Also refrain from crouching, lest you make yourself appear more like a mountain lion’s typical four-legged prey.

Livestock. Cattle may seem largely benign, but they could be wild animals like any other in this article. Don’t enter their pens unless absolutely necessary, and seek the landowner before doing so. Don’t approach, pet or feed cattle. Cows with calves can be dangerous and aggressive, and can charge unexpectedly. Bulls, meanwhile, are extremely dangerous and aggressive, and likewise as with bears or mountain lions, DON’T RUN, and don’t turn your back on a bull.

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As with all best safety practices in the UVM field, the most important thing you can do to avoid a wild animal encounter is maintain sharp awareness of your surroundings. With these tips in mind, UVM workers can travel more safely and confidently in environments where animal encounters are most likely. 

Click to download the Animal Safety infographic and learn ways to use caution on the job.
 

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