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Protecting Outdoor Workers from Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

  • Issued: July 6, 2012
  • Content last reviewed: August 2016

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

What is the health hazard?

Blacklegged ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are in Ontario. Workers who work in certain outdoor areas are at risk for tick bites and developing Lyme disease, and should protect themselves.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. In Ontario only bites by the blacklegged ticks (formerly called deer ticks) can spread the disease. Not all blacklegged ticks are infected with the bacteria. These ticks are more commonly found in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes—and thrive in wet environments. While low, there is a probability of encountering blacklegged ticks almost anywhere in Ontario as the ticks can spread by migratory birds. Ticks are most active in the summer months, but can be found at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing.

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within one to two weeks but can occur as soon as three days or as long as months, after an infected tick bite. In order to transmit the disease, a tick must be attached to feed for at least 24 hours. The early symptoms and signs may include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, swollen glands, and an expanding skin rash. If you develop these symptoms, promptly seek medical advice. See your doctor or a healthcare provider right away, whether you have symptoms, or are just feeling unwell in the weeks following a tick bite. Be sure to tell them about your outdoor occupation, and if you have been working in an area where you may have had exposure to ticks. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Lyme disease is not spread from person to person or by animals. However, animals may carry the infected ticks.

Infected ticks are commonly found in these areas:

  • Long Point Provincial Park on the northwest shore of Lake Erie
  • Turkey Point Provincial Park on the northwest shore of Lake Erie
  • Rondeau Provincial Park on the north shore of Lake Erie
  • Point Pelee National Park on north shore of Lake Erie
  • Pinery Provincial Park on the southeast shore of Lake Huron
  • Rouge Valley/Rouge Park on east side of Greater Toronto Area
  • Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area on northeast shore of Lake Ontario
  • Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area on the Niagara Peninsula

Public Health Ontario also provides a map of lyme disease estimated risk areas where blacklegged ticks have been identified and are known to reside.

Infected ticks are becoming more common in the Rainy River area of northwestern Ontario.

Blacklegged ticks spread to new areas of the province because of climate change and warmer winter temperatures. They can also spread by traveling on birds and deer.

Examples of occupations at risk

Occupations at risk include outdoor workers especially those in southern Ontario who may work in wooded, bushy areas or in tall grasses such as workers in park and wildlife management, ground keepers, loggers, construction workers, farmers, fishers, camp counsellors, landscape workers, biologists, veterinarians, silviculture workers and tree planters.

Prevention

What must employers do to protect workers?

  • Determine if workers may be at risk of getting tick bites and developing Lyme disease.
  • Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers from Lyme disease as required under clause 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
  • Provide workers with information, instruction and supervision to protect the health or safety of the worker as required under clause 25(2)(a) of the OHSA. Ensure workers are aware of the risk and know how to identify the presence of ticks, how to prevent or minimize exposure, and how to treat a tick bite that has occurred.
  • Make sure supervisors know what is required to protect workers from Lyme disease as required under clause 25(2)(d) of the OHSA.
  • Ensure that appropriate personal protective clothing as required is provided.
  • When made aware that a worker has developed Lyme disease from exposure at work, report to the Ministry of Labour as an occupational illness as required under subsection 52(2) of the OHSA.

How can workers avoid ticks? If you are working outside, protect yourself!

  • Wear light-coloured clothing to help find ticks more easily.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants. Wear a hat if contact with overhead vegetation cannot be avoided. Wear closed footwear and socks.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Use an insect repellent, or bug spray, containing DEET or Icaridin on clothes and exposed skin. Always read the label for directions on how to use it.
  • Avoid bushy areas and long grass if possible.
  • Immediately after outdoor work do a total body inspection for ticks. pay close attention to areas such as your scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, naval and behind your ears and knees. Use a mirror to check the back of your body or have someone else check for you.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors to wash off a tick that may not be attached through a bite.
  • Check any equipment or gear that you may have brought with you outside for ticks.
  • Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
  • If you find any ticks, report it to your employer so that other workers can be made aware of the hazard and recheck themselves for ticks.

Treatment and removal of ticks

Prompt removal of attached ticks (within 24 hours) can decrease the risk of infection. For information on the removal of ticks and treatment, visit the link below to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.

Resources and further information

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Government of Canada

Ministry of Labour

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.