Working in PNG presents many new challenges for our trainers. The construction of the LNG plant has frightened away most of the wildlife, but since breaking ground on the project over 950 snakes have been relocated from the site by our Snake handlers. A pair of passionate (some might say crazy) Australian herpetologists. We have found them in some strange places over the years. Having crawled into hard hats laid on the ground, vehicle engines, split AC units being just some of them.
Part of the induction training for every employee is Snake Awareness. They all have to understand what snakes can be found onsite, where they go and how to avoid them and in the worst case scenario how to treat a snakebite.
We had to spend a fair amount of time conversing with the snake handlers to learn about the history of the site and the types of snakes present. Talking to passionate snake handlers always seem to come down to being asked to hold snakes. As they strive to prove that we should respect, but not fear them. They tell you confidently that there have been no snakebites on site since the project started. While we were feeling a lot more sceptical and are busily wondering how we will explain this on the Incident report, if we do actually get bitten.
Thankfully most of the snakes caught are harmless (at least non venomous) grass snakes and Carpet Pythons but unfortunately some are extremely venomous. The most common of which, the Papuan Taipan is the most deadly snake in the world. They are prone to be aggressive if disturbed and with a tendency to bite high to the thigh or buttocks. They have been removing about one a week from site since the start of the build, indeed two were removed from the accommodation camp last week. We paid a visit to one in the Snake handler’s office before it was sent to a researcher in Port Moresby to aid in the creation of antivenin. Thankfully we did not have to hold this snake.
The Snake handler revealed he slipped on loose gravel and landed on this snake while catching it. This is one of the main points of the training. Most snakes will try and get away and avoid contact with humans, even when the human in question has the bad manners to fall on it. Perhaps it just means that Snake handlers are like cats and are born with nine lives. In which case, one down Jim!