If you’ve never experienced the redness, itching and swelling caused by exposure to poisonous plants, you might not be too worried about protecting yourself while laboring outside in wooded areas.
But that would be a mistake.
In reality, about 90% of the human population is allergic to urushiol oil, the dangerous substance in poisonous plants that causes an allergic reaction. That means few of us are completely safe from the hazards posed by poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
The best way to prevent exposure to urushiol oil is to recognize poisonous plants when you see them so you can steer clear of the plants as much as possible.
Poison ivy is typically a vine or a shrub with three leaves close together. The leaves are green but they turn red in the fall. There are also small yellow or green flowers that later become berries that are white, green, or yellow.
Poison oak is typically a shrub with three leaves close together. It can also grow like a vine. Small yellow or green flowers grow into white, green, or yellow berries.
Poison sumac is a woody shrub with stems containing seven to 13 leaves, which mostly grow in pairs. The plant’s berries are usually glossy and pale yellow or cream in color.
Before starting a job outside in a wooded area, survey the location to determine whether poisonous plants could be present. Once you identify a potential hazard, make sure you’re wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, boots and gloves to lower the chances that urushiol oil will infiltrate exposed skin
if you make contact with a poisonous plant.
(What other precautions can we take to reduce the likelihood of exposure to urushiol oil?)
You can also apply a barrier cream such as a lotion containing bentoquatam to exposed areas to reduce the chances that urushiol oil will contaminate your skin.
Despite your best efforts, however, there’s still a chance you could make contact with urushiol oil.
If that happens, immediately rinse the infected skin with rubbing alcohol, poison-plant wash, a degreasing agent such as dishwashing soap, or detergent and lots of water.
Wash all areas that might have contacted the plant, including under the fingernails. Rinse frequently so the wash solution doesn’t dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol oil.
You can also treat the infected area with a cold compress, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream.
Avoid scratching the contaminated area or touching any blisters.
Thanks for your attention. And remember, let’s stay safe out there!
(From the April 26, 2021, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)