CLEWISTON—In what can only be described as a ‘freak accident’, a U.S. Sugar employee died last week after a swarm of bees stung him while he was conducting his normal rounds at his job.
In the wake of the incident, his employer released a statement mourning the loss of the longtime employee who, by all accounts, was a faithful worker right until the moment he happened upon the deadly insects in the field.
The fluke incident reveals what little can be done to eliminate the sorts of accidents that took the man’s life, and that working outdoors – a necessity for the job that the company does – exposes threats that, while rare, cannot altogether be prevented.
The incident was reported to 911 at approximately 12 p.m. on Dec. 5, with callers reporting a sick person at the U.S. Sugar site at 1731 S. W.C. Owen in Clewiston.
Within minutes, EMS responded and transported the man to the hospital for treatment. The care would be futile, with the man eventually succumbing to the attack.
U.S. Sugar released the following statement (The Clewiston News has decided to withhold the name of the victim): “Following this tragic incident, our thoughts and our prayers are with the family of our longtime employee. He joined U.S. Sugar in 1984 and spent nearly 30 years working in our Agriculture Services and Sugar Manufacturing operations. He will be missed by his many friends and co-workers.”
According to one person with knowledge of the attack, it appears the man had been operating a piece of machinery that may have stirred up the bees.
Once he had finished his work and, preparing to go to lunch, the man stepped out of the equipment and into the path of the agitated bees.
The exact species of bee is not known, although one culprit remains Africanized honey bees. This bee species has been found in South Florida more frequently as of late.
The Africanized honey bee is a cultivated variety of honey bee that was bred to better withstand tropical regions when some of the bees escaped quarantine and began breeding with local Brazilian bees that eventually traveled to North America.
The Africanized honey bee is better known as the “Killer Bee”, something of a misnomer since fatalities resulting from the bee attacks are statistically very rare.
One of the most recent fatalities, however, happened in 2008, when a swarm of African honey bees attacked and killed a man who was demolishing a trailer in nearby Okeechobee County. Stung more than 100 times, the man suffered a severe allergic reaction and died.
But officials are not releasing additional information on the attack, and have not said if the attack should be attributed to the African honey bee.
Officials have also not said how many times the man was stung.
According to officials at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, it typically takes anywhere from five to 10 stings per pound of body weight for African honey bees to inject enough venom to kill an adult – for someone who is allergic to them, however, a single sting can be deadly.
Following the deadly attack, questions loom about the safety of workers in the fields, and whether anything can be done to prevent similar incidents from happening.
According to the source, getting attacked by bees is a workplace hazard that just cannot be eliminated, just as if lighting were to strike.
Most workers do their best to prepare and remain wary, but there is no safeguarding Mother Nature.
“We live in an ag area and there are snakes and gators,” said the source. “They’re out there and accidents can happen but most people don’t worry about it.”
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