Bear Safety Tips for Workers in the Field
The chances of a worker being attacked by a bear are low, but the number of attacks in Canada has been on the rise for the past two decades. Various regulations were put into place to protect endangered bears, allowing them to successfully repopulate. While this is great news, it also means that the number of human-and-bear encounters is growing. Although you are more likely to be injured at work in a vehicle accident or a fall, a bear attack is a real workplace hazard for many industries.
There are three types of wild bears in Canada: brown bears (commonly known as grizzly bears), black bears, and polar bears. Bears typically only show aggression toward humans when they are defending themselves or their cubs, and their destruction is usually limited to property damage. But, if a bear feels like it is being threatened or when it is around humans long enough to tolerate them, they can be extremely dangerous.
Research about bear attacks at work is limited, but reports show that there have been more than 25 fatal bear attacks in Canada since 2000. One worldwide study found that 28% of brown bear attacks were on people working outside and another 22% of attacks happened while the victim was doing wildlife-related fieldwork.
Bears try to steer clear of humans, but complete avoidance may not be possible. Read our top five bear safety tips for workers in the field.
1. Train employees
Before an employee steps onto a work site where bears may be present, he or she must learn how to spot signs of a bear and how to work safely in that area.
Having bear awareness means a worker is able to recognize clues like tree scratching, tracks, scat, dug-up anthills, and animal carcasses. Because workers cannot always avoid bear habitats, they should make loud noises and set up electric fences to keep bears away.
For more information and resources about what to do in a bear encounter, check out government programs such as Bear Wise.
2. Create a plan
After training, the company must help the employee create a plan for working in bear habitats.
They need to think through:
- How to keep bears away
- How to proceed if bear signs are present
- How to react after seeing a bear
- What to do if a bear makes contact
This planning will enable workers to make split-second decisions if they find themselves near a bear.
3. Fence off work sites
Portable electric fences allow employees to work while keeping bears from inadvertently wandering in. To be effective, the electric fence must be properly installed and maintained. The worker must be familiar with the fence material, the battery, grounding, and how much buffer space is required. Additionally, he or she must know how to properly store, transport, install, and breakdown the fence.
4. Keep food and attractants clear
A bear’s sense of smell is seven times better than a human’s, so one of the best ways to prevent a bear encounter is to keep attractants like food and waste stored in bear-safe containers. When a bear can find food at a site, it is more likely to return. And if the work site is known to be a source of food, other bears may follow suit.
5. Use bear spray
One personal protection item that is an effective tool in bear safety for workers is bear spray. Bear spray is essentially a more concentrated pepper spray that diffuses in a large, cone-like shape, discouraging bears from getting close.
Because of its potency, workers must know when to use bear spray, how to use it safely, and what to do after they use it. For example, the wind can affect where the spray disperses and can cause the worker harm if sprayed in the wrong direction. Also, a worker must know when he or she should deploy the spray during the bear encounter.
Although the likelihood of a bear attack is low, workers who may encounter a bear on site must be able to recognize the signs that bears are nearby, learn what to do to keep them away, and have a plan to get out of the situation safely.