Beekeeping Safety      

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This guide on beekeeping safety tips is made for those who have a true passion to establish their own hives but are concerned about the risks. Beekeeping is a rewarding experience but there are some potential hazards. A good understanding will help you make good decisions on how to best approach your adventure with honey bees.

Person putting on glove for beekeeping safety in an apiary.

Oh the excitement of the beginning beekeeper, I remember it like it was yesterday – though it was a long, long time ago! It is easy to envision the rewards of having your own bee colonies – but you need to consider both sides of the coin.

Beekeeping Dangers, Risks and Safety Concerns

Any activity or hobby has risks-even runners stumble and fall. So, it should come as no surprise that there are some risks associated with beekeeping.

Thousands of stinging insects in a box – yeah! But, rather than being a deterrent to those interested in the keeping bees – be aware of the challenges – so you can overcome them. Then, you will be free to enjoy the many benefits of beekeeping.

Major Risks or Dangers

  • bee stings
  • allergic reactions
  • physical injury
  • heat stress
  • chemical exposure
  • social and legal risks
  • stress, fatigue and going broke

Bee Stings

The most common risk beekeepers face is being stung by bees. Why do honey bees sting? Well, they don’t understand that your intentions are good. They are defending their hive.

Beehives that are not placed far enough away from your house increase the chance of someone else getting stung too. For most folks, stings only cause temporary discomfort – just something to get through.

Allergic Reactions

Some people have a natural allergy to venom from bees and wasps. However, the venom from these insects is different and you can be allergic to one or both.

Beekeepers and those working closely with honey bees are at a higher risk of developing allergies to bee venom. This may take years to evolve – or it may happen much sooner. These allergies can be life-threatening and require emergency medical treatment.

Physical Injury

With beekeeping, the necessity of lifting heavy hive components can cause painful injuries. There is some risk of physical injury such as strains, sprains, cuts, and bruises. Of course, there are ways to lessen the chance of you having “beekeeper’s back”!

Heat Stress

All beekeepers working in hot climates are at risk of heat-related illnesses (especially during the Summer). Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are possible unless you take precautions to stay cool and hydrated.

Unfortunately, many hive management task are needed during the Summer months. Doing these while wearing a bee suit is a hot job no matter what.

Chemical Exposure

Pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals used in agriculture and on home lawns may have adverse effects on bees. Likewise, beekeepers may expose themselves to harm from chemicals while managing beehives.

The biggest culprits are some of the products used as varroa mite treatments. Without proper attention to directions for use – long term damage to your health is possible.

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Social and Legal Risks

You can keep bees in almost any location – however is it legal? Beginning beekeepers may encounter conflicts with local regulations and laws.

Unhappy neighbors can be a problem in close neighborhoods. Be sure to check out all local laws (including home owners associations) regarding hive placement before getting bees.

Stress, Fatigue & Going Broke

Beekeeping is not a hands-off activity. While not requiring attention every day, there will be certain hive management tasks to complete when needed. Prepare yourself from some hard work.

My reference to going broke is a bit of a tease. However, beekeeping costs add up – plan your budget. Also, no matter how hard you try – not every beehive will proser.

You will have colonies that die and sometimes we never know why. It is important to focus on the rewarding aspects of working with honey bees – while understanding that things will not always be perfect.

Chart of the risks of beekeeping and tips for success.

Safety Tips to Meet Beekeeping Challenges

Now that I have frightened you thoroughly, let’s look at the other side of the coin. While you need to be realistic about the risks involved in beekeeping, there are ways you can mitigate these dangers. Let’s consider these basic safety tips for beekeepers that can keep you safe and successful.

Reducing Bee Stings

In addition to choosing a good location for your beehives, there are other ways to reduce stinging incidents.

Use Protective Gear

Unless you enjoy stings – wear protective beekeeping clothing when visiting your hives. It only takes a minute to put on a hat and veil- the minimum safety gear needed.

For those even more protection, I recommend you choose a beekeeping suit or jacket to prevent more stings.

Use a Bee Smoker

Use a bee smoker when managing your hives. We know that smoke has a calming effect on honey bees when used properly.

Beekeeping smokers and one of the iconic tools of the craft – along with a good hive tool of course. Smokers are quite inexpensive and there are various types bee smoker fuel to use.

Have a Bee Sting Plan

For when stings happen, have a plan. Learn how to properly remove a bee stinger and apply basic first aid. Keep some sting relief products in your beekeeper’s tool box where you can grab them.

A few home remedies for bee stings in the home of a beekeeper is not a bad idea. Multi use products such as a couple of essential oils for bee stings is a good idea.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of a dangerous allergic reaction. Be sure to call for emergency help if someone is having a life-threatening issue.

Protect Your Back

Save your back. There are easier ways to manage hives than just using brute force. Place your hives on bee hive stands to get them higher off the ground.

I like to keep a portable metal stand in the bee yard. When inspecting a beehive, I set the top boxes over on the stand-instead of sitting them on the ground.

Also, have a plan for getting heavy boxes back to the house during the honey harvest. This might be a good time to call over a friend to help. (Make sure you have an extra beekeeping suit or jacket for them).

Avoid Overheating

Beekeeping in the south is rough. That bee suit feels like an oven from June until late September. Plan to complete bee yard work early in the morning before the day heats up.

If your live in an extreme climate, you may want to help your beehive stay cooler too!

For yourself, a ventilated bee suit might be a little cooler but not enough for me. Use cooling towels, face fans or other ways to cool off. Be sure to take frequent breaks in the shade and stay hydrated.

Safety with Chemical Treatments

Protect yourself while using chemical treatments for honey bee pests. Follow the directions for proper use on each package and wear the correct protective gear. Some of these chemicals can do serious damage (especially to your lungs).

If you practice natural beekeeping principles, you will have less exposure to chemicals. However, even some of the organic materials are quite strong.

Check for Local Regulations – Be a Good Neighbor

In some areas, it is illegal to have bees on your property – or there is a limit of how many colonies you have can have in one space. Before investing your money in beekeeping, check out any local regulations (including homeowner’s association requirements).

And while you are at it – be a good neighbor. It is not uncommon for neighbors to be concerned about beehives in close proximity to their house.

Provide a water source for your bees before they arrive. This might save an uncomfortable discussion about why you need to keep bees out of their swimming pool.

Avoid Stress – Have Fun

Beekeeping is rewarding but it is hard work and not every hive will do well – no matter how hard you try. Go slowly and don’t get in over your head. Don’t invest more money than you can afford to lose. Beekeeping is farming and many aspects are beyond our control.

Properly protected beekeeper with a hive. Beekeeper walking toward apiary with smoker.

FAQs

How can I prevent bee stings while working in my bee yard?

In addition to wearing protective beekeeping clothing, there are more ways to prevent stings when near your beehives. Move slowly and calmly when close to a hive, avoid sudden movements that may provoke the bees. Avoid walking in front of the beehive.

What should I do if I encounter aggressive behavior from my bees?

If your colony exhibits very aggressive behavior, slowly and calmly close up the hive and walk away. Avoid swatting or flailing your arms – this only makes things worse. Seek shelter indoors if necessary until the hive calms down.

Are there specific precautions I should take when transporting bees or hive equipment?

Moving a beehive to a new locations poses safety challenges. Be sure to secure the boxes of the hive together with straps and strap them down so they will not slide. Do ensure the colony has adequate ventilation – bees can overheat quickly without fresh air.

Final Thoughts

Beekeeping is a rewarding hobby that allows you to see a world that many never will. But it is important to follow proper beekeeping safety precautions to protect yourself and others. This helps ensure that you will have a successful, long-term relationship with your hives. Connect with local beekeeping associations and make some new friends along the way.