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July Safety Topic: Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants

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Any person working outdoors is at risk of exposure to poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. When in contact with skin, the sap oil (urushiol) of these plants can cause an allergic reaction. Burning these poisonous plants produces smoke that, when inhaled, can cause lung irritation.

Workers may become exposed through:

  • Direct contact with the plant
  • Indirect contact (touching tools, animals, or clothing with urushiol on them)
  • Inhalation of particles containing urushiol from burning plants

Symptoms of Skin Contact include:

  • Red rash within a few days of contact
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Possible bumps, patches, streaking or weeping blisters NOTE: Blister fluids are not contagious

First Aid 

If you are exposed to a poisonous plant:

  • Immediately rinse skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water.  Rinse frequently so that wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol.
  • Scrub under nails with a brush.
  • Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.  Oatmeal baths may relieve itching.
  • An antihistamine may help relieve itching.  NOTE: Drowsiness may occur.
  • In severe cases or if the rash is on the face or genitals, seek professional medical attention.
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you have a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or have had a severe reaction in the past.

When to see a doctor

  • The reaction is severe or widespread (over 50% of your body)
  • You inhaled the smoke from burning poison ivy and are having difficulty breathing
  • Your skin continues to swell
  • The rash affects your eyes, mouth or genitals
  • Blisters are oozing pus
  • You develop a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
  • The rash doesn't get better within a few weeks

Protect Yourself

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.  Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.
  • If you are actively removing poisonous plants during clearing activities, wear protective suits to prevent skin contact or the spread of oils from sweat soaked clothing.
  • Barrier skin creams, such as lotion containing bentoquatum, may offer some protection.
  • After use, clean tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and lots of water. Urushiol can remain active on the surface of objects for up to 5 years.   Wear disposable nitrile or rubber gloves during this process.
  • Do not burn plants or brush piles that may contain poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Inhaling smoke from burning plants can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.

Let’s do all we can to prevent allergic reactions from contact with poisonous plants this season.  If you develop a rash, report it and treat it with ointments and antihistamines to reduce the discomfort and prevent further spread.  If left untreated, the rash can spread from sweat, scratching due to discomfort, and from contact with clothing spreading the oil.  Often times if medical attention is necessary, the treatment will be a prescription corticosteroid.  If a prescription is issued as a result of the medical treatment, the illness becomes an OSHA recordable medical treatment case.


Post Date: 7/12/2017

© August Mack Environmental, Inc.