Instead of the usual Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Awareness warning (provide workers with shade, cool water and frequent breaks) for a sultry month like August, we thought this month we’d dedicate this space to other things, living things, that can injure or kill you while working on a southern California construction site

The list is long and varied, so we are going to attempt to break the threats down into straightforward categories—animal, vegetable and mineral—to start the discussion. Much of the information in this report comes from the Red Cross magazine Safety and Health.


Under mammals, we can list bears and pumas (mountain lion, cougar, catamount, panthers, etc.), coyotes, stray wild dogs and crazy humans. Except for the latter, you may be able to avoid problems with the rest but remember, ALL of them are capable of severely injuring you if not killing you outright. Experts say that unless under stress, most of the dangerous mammals will seek to avoid humans, but the experts won’t be standing with you when you confront the beasts. The stressors include if they are starving, startled, or if they believe that you pose a threat to their young. 

If attacked, you should fight back, rather than playing dead or submitting—throw sticks or rocks and make a lot of noise. You will be in the fight of your life, so act like it because you can’t outrun them.

Rest of the Creepy Crawlies

Rattlesnakes are the only poisonous snake native to California. There are several different species, including the northern Pacific rattlesnake, Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled, Red Diamond, Southern Pacific, Great Basin and the Mojave rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes are undoubtedly dangerous, but they won’t generally strike unless startled or provoked and will almost always retreat if given a chance. Most rattlesnake encounters happen by accident when they are touched or stepped on by walkers or climbers

There are around 800 rattlesnake bites each year in California and one or two deaths. If bitten, your chances of survival are excellent, provided you seek immediate medical attention.


Bees and wasps can kill you if they attack in large numbers, or you are allergic to the toxin in their stingers. In recent years, Africanized honey bees spreading rapidly in the state, especially in southern California. 

Although the sting of an Africanized honey bee is no worse than that of European bees, these bees are far more aggressive. They are faster to swarm, attack in more significant numbers, and pursue their victims for longer.

The female Southern Black Widow spider has a venomous bite. The red hourglass marking on their back identifies these “Widows,” so named because they kill and eat their mates after their nuptials. Although their bite is undoubtedly potent, it is rarely fatal, thanks to antivenom, so get thee to the doctor. 

Tarantulas are dark, hairy and terrifying, with adults measuring three inches or more in circumference. They are most frequently seen in the early evening when they are out hunting. Although a tarantula bite is very unlikely to kill you, it can be excruciating, unpleasant, and you should still seek medical help.

There are many different types of scorpion in California. None of them will usually kill you if they sting unless you suffer an allergic reaction, but the sting can be painful, and you should seek treatment. 


Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, stinging nettle and poison hemlock are among the plants that can cause skin irritation lasting a week or more. Irritation can be caused by skin brushing against a plant or from secondary contact with contaminated clothing.

Poison ivy looks different throughout the seasons. Young leaves have a reddish tint, old vines are very hairy, and in the late summer and fall, it will have green to white berries on the vines. Prevention is your best protection, so learn to identify poisonous plants, and know that they grow along trails, buildings, on roadsides, and up trees.


The state rock of California is Serpentine, a greenish stone that can kill you. Serpentine often contains asbestos, which has potential human-health consequences. The Air Resources Board adopted regulations in 1990 restricting the use of this rock type as an unpaved road surfacing material. Certain areas in the state require hazmat equipment for construction workers dealing with the beautiful, deadly, plentiful rock.