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Poisonous Plants Can be an Irritating Hazard for Outdoor Workers

Site Safety

According to OSHA, approximately 85% of the general population will develop an allergic reaction if exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac. Workers need to recognize the hazards and avoid contact with these potentially harmful plants.

OSHA Standard 1926.21(b)(4) says that in job site areas where harmful plants or animals are present, employees who may be exposed shall be instructed regarding the potential hazards, and how to avoid injury, and the first aid procedures to be used in the event of injury.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac

Don't assume everyone learned what poison ivy looks like in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. It's very easy to mistake poison ivy for a beautiful vine growing up the side of a brick wall. Obviously, those workers in the landscaping industry need to be particularly careful, but anyone working outdoors could potentially come in contact with poisonous plants without realizing it. How to recognize poison ivy, oak and sumac as well as what to do if you or your clothes come in contact with it, should be the topic of a safety meeting at least once a year. A good time to have this safety meeting is in the Spring or Summer when these plants are prevalent. During the safety huddle on this topic, make sure the following points are emphasized.

Preventing contact with harmful plants is the greatest safety precaution that workers can take.

Harmful plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac release a hazardous oil called urushiol, which is highly allergic to most humans.

Examples what a poison ivy allergic reaction on the skin can look like
Examples what a poison ivy allergic reaction on the skin can look like.
  • Avoid direct contact and indirect contact with these plants. Don't touch any tools or clothing that has been contaminated by the oil or sap of the plant.
  • Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when working outdoors and in areas where contact with harmful plants is possible. Long pants, shirts with long sleeves, gloves and work boots can prevent accident contact with poisonous plants.
  • Wash tools and clothes with warm soapy water to reduce the spreading of the harmful oil.
  • Never burn plants or brush piles that may contain poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.
  • Inhaling the smoke from burning these plants or inhaling small particles from cutting or chopping them can cause severe lung reactions.
  • Wash your skin with soap and water if you come in contact with a poisonous plant.
  • If you do have a reaction to the harmful plant, avoid scratching and bursting the blisters which can lead to infection.

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