Normally, poisonous plants aren’t at the top of the list when it comes to safety initiatives. But did you know that roughly 85% of the general public are likely to develop allergic reactions when exposed to poison ivy, sumac or oak? It pays to know the red flags—especially for landscapers, laborers, pavers, construction employees, and other outdoor workers in warm climates. Read on to find out how you can keep employees safe from the most common poisonous plants:
Identifying Common Poisonous Plants
Employees who work outdoors may be potentially exposed to plants that have poisonous sap. Having contact with the sap, usually found in the stems, leaves, roots, and fruits, can create a reaction after the encounter. At special risk are firefighters and forestry workers. When responding to a fire, these workers can develop rashes or lung irritations from inhaling the smoke of burning poisonous plants. Do you know how to spot poisonous plants? The most common poisonous plants are easy to recognize if you remember these key identifiers:
- Eastern poison ivy – Typically, this hairy and ropelike vine has three shiny leaves (green in the summer, red in the fall) that grow from a small stem.
- Western poison ivy – This low and three-leaved shrub doesn’t appear like a climbing vine.
- The plant may have green or yellow flowers. Its berries may be white, green-yellow or amber.
- It is usually a shrub with three leaves (like the poison ivy).
- Pacific poison oak – Has vine-like characteristics.
- Similar to the poison ivy, this plant may have green or yellow flowers—with clusters of berries that are green-yellow or white in color.
- This woody shrub usually has stems with 7-13 paired leaves.
- Its berries may be glossy, cream-colored or pale yellow.
Associated Symptoms and First Aid Treatment
Employees who have skin contact with poisonous plants should watch out for the following symptoms:
- Red rashes after a few days of skin contact
- Swelling and itching
- Patches, bumps, and weeping blisters may also occur
Outdoor workers who have been exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac are recommended to:
- Rinse the affected skin immediately. Wash with rubbing alcohol, dishwashing soap or detergent, and water. If available, use poison plant wash as well.
- Use a brush to scrub under the nails and avoid further contact.
- To minimize itch and blisters, apply a wet compress, hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
- Antihistamine medications may also relieve itching related to allergies.
- Call 911 or seek help from a medical professional for severe cases.
Aside from knowing what the poisonous plants look like and the recommended treatment, it also helps to take extra measures at work. Here are some simple ways to protect workers from the harmful effects of such poisonous plants:
- Wear proper clothing to avoid skin contact (long sleeves/pants, gloves, and boots).
- Apply a barrier skin cream for extra protection.
- Clean tools after use. Wash the surface with rubbing alcohol or a detergent solution to remove traces of the poisonous sap.
- Avoid burning plants or brush piles that may have poisonous plants.
Understanding these safety essentials can make all the difference in preventing related injuries at construction sites. Do you need to strengthen your understanding of construction safety? 360training.com offers an online OSHA 30-hour construction course that tackles the latest industry practices and regulations. Contact us to find out more about this self-paced training solution.