Last edited 10 May 2022

Bees, hornets, and wasps

Outdoor work can be hazardous - even with appropriate health and safety policies and risk assessments - if employees do not understand the risks and receive appropriate training to manage their own PPE responsibilities, then they may be putting themselves at increased risk.

It’s important that workers understand the difference between bees, hornets, and wasps - because the UK is full of them. It’s best if these creatures are left undisturbed. Bees are not aggressive and try and avoid stinging people, but hornets and wasps are more aggressive.

With bees, hornets, and wasps, a bee can only sting once and hornets and wasps can sting multiple times. Bees are generally furry, and wasps and hornets aren’t. Bees use pollen to make and eat honey; wasps and hornets are carnivores.

Hornets are black and white or black and yellow, and bees are more golden in colour. In the UK, there are two types of bees: honey bees and bumble bees. Bumble bees don’t have barbed stings and can sting multiple times, but they aren’t usually aggressive nor do they sting unless provoked. Bee stings are painful, but don’t cause serious harm unless workers are allergic to stings. Seek medical attention if someone has an allergic reaction to a sting.

Hornets are a subset of wasps, but are fatter in the middle than an average wasp. They are very aggressive, and have a more painful sting than a wasp sting because their venom contains 5% acetylcholine, which is a chemical that increases the stimulation of painful nerves.

To treat, wash the area with soap and water to remove as much venom as possible. Reduce swelling and pain by applying a cold pack. Keep the wound clean and dry to prevent infection, and cover with a bandage.

Wasps include yellow jackets and hornets and have two pairs of wings. Only females have stingers, and they can sting repeatedly. Wasps attach to victims and clasp the skin with spurs on their feet. Then they rotate their abdomen, stinging multiple times in a circular motion. They fly above the victim and dive down quickly, delivering a sting that punctures deep into the skin, depositing venom.

As summer ends, and the temperature changes, wasps begin to die off or hibernate for the winter.

For all stings:

Watch sting victims for swelling and tenderness. If hives develop, breathing problems, and difficulty swallowing, seek medical attention. If a sting happens near the eyes, nose, or throat, seek medical attention.

To avoid stings:

  • Don’t wear sweet smelling perfumes, hairspray, or deodorant.
  • Don’t wear florals (usually not a problem on site).
  • Wear light colours (red is best).
  • Don’t eat in areas where there are stinging insects.
  • Avoid hives and nests.
  • Do not crush or squash hornets and wasps as the released odour will attract its friends to defend it.
  • Walk away calmly.

Find out more about UK biting and stinging insects here.

When finding new sites to work, you may find that you’ll have to move hornets nests, but call professional services to do so as you do not want a hive attacking those in charge of removal.

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