Bees and bee hives in the workplace

This guidance is for employers and employees working with bees and bee hives for the production of honey. You can reduce the risk of bee stings and maintain a healthy and safe workplace by implementing control measures.

Date last updated

Friday 20 Dec 2019

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture

Working with bees

Bees live and do important work in the environment—pollinating food crops. When bees are calm and don't feel threatened, the chance of being stung is low. Working close to bee hives increases the risk of bee stings. Bee hives can be located on building roofs, gardens, farms, orchards, national parks and anywhere else where bees can access nectar and pollen from flowering plants. Bees attacked a gardener working near a hive who later died from anaphylactic shock from multiple stings.

Risk factors

Avoid upsetting bees and consider the following risks before starting work.

  • Not everyone knows whether they have an allergy to bee stings.
  • Working near bee hives brings a higher risk of being stung.
  • All bee keepers will get stung at some stage despite wearing the best protective personal equipment (PPE) available.
  • Bees dislike dark woolly clothing including felt hats and wool socks and are likely to panic and sting if caught in hair or clothing fibres.
  • Bees dislike several odours including oil, perfume, hairspray, diesel, dog and horse odours, and the build-up of excessive perspiration.
  • Bees dislike their flight path being disrupted.

Control measures

It is important to develop safe systems of work to reduce the risk of bee stings to employees and other people that may be exposed to bees. Consider the following control measures:

Isolate hives

Isolate bee hives where practicable and position away from public areas including:

  • houses
  • gates
  • footpaths
  • stock yards
  • other public traffic areas

It is recommended that the hive entrance faces onto screening, shade cloth, fences or dense shrub. This will force the bees to fly up above 2 metres before entering an area frequented by people, or when crossing a property boundary.

Allow bees clear access

Ensure the hive opening cannot be blocked and that the bees' flight path is unobstructed.

Isolate the area around the hive

When smoking the hive to subdue bees and harvesting honey, ensure the area around the hive is isolated so only a qualified apiarist can gain access.

Employees doing non-apiary work should not be required to work in close proximity to the hives or the bee’s flight path. When these employees are required to work in an area near bee hives, they should wear appropriate clothing including:

  • light coloured long sleeved shirt
  • long pants
  • boots

Information and training

Provide information and training to all employees about how to stay safe when working with or around bees and what to do if they are stung.

Allergies

Check whether employees are allergic to bee stings and keep a record of any cases.

First aid

  • Always have a properly stocked first aid kit available in the workplace.
  • Ensure employees are aware of the first aid procedure for the treatment of bee stings.
  • If you are stung by a bee, remove the barbed stinger as soon as possible by gently scraping the affected area and apply appropriate medication if required to minimise pain.

Protective personal equipment (PPE)

Trained apiarists must wear protective clothing including:

  • a folding wire bee veil over a hat to maintain a reasonable distance between the beekeeper's face and the bees
  • light coloured coveralls with elastic cuffs and wrist bands
  • boots that cover the ankles
  • elbow length bee-keeping gloves