One of our hydro mechanics recently came across a banded water snake (also known as a Southern water snake). The mechanic opened the draft tube door to inspect the parking ledge for the runner – and realized he had some company in there. At RUS, we have a specific training module on snakes that is a required part of our new hire orientation. Making employees familiar with the types of snakes that are common to our work area, and teaching the crew what to do when they come across a snake, can keep a run-in from becoming a recordable.
Snakes are most active between April and October, when warm weather brings them out to mate. In the Southeast, the venomous snakes that our crews are most likely to encounter include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (water moccasins). And although most people don’t like snakes, the snake diet of insects and rodents makes them helpful to have around. We teach our crews that snakes are not aggressive, and will only bite if they are startled or feel threatened. But venomous or not, a bite from a snake really hurts!
These common sense precautions can make everyone safer:
1) Never pick up or attempt to move a snake.
2) If you see a snake, back away slowly; a snake’s striking distance is about half the total length of its body.
3) Wear leather gloves if you have to handle debris, lumber, rocks or other objects where a snake could be hiding.
If an employee is bitten:
1) Call the onsite emergency number (or 911) right away. If the bite is from a venomous snake, time is of the essence for administering anti-venom.
2) Remember the color and shape of the snake. These details can help medical personnel treat a bite.
3) Keep the bitten person calm, which slows the spread of poisonous venom. Have the person lay or sit still, with the bite level and below the heart. Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing until medical personnel arrive.
Snakes should not be killed when they are found; many are protected as endangered species. In the case of the banded water snake, it will flatten its body when it feels threatened in order to appear larger. This snake also emits a foul musk, and bites repeatedly, slashing sideways to tear the flesh of its attacker. Letting the snake have time to return to the water (which is what the RUS mechanic did) is the safest and smartest course of action for everyone.