Risk Factors Of Exposure To Poisonous Plants While Working In Construction

Risk Factors Of Exposure To Poisonous Plants While Working In Construction

Poisonous Plants

Many native and exotic plants are poisonous to humans when ingested or if there is skin contact with plant chemicals. However, the most common problems with poisonous plants arise from contact with the sap oil of several plants that cause an allergic skin reaction: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac release oil when the leaf or other plant parts are bruised, damaged, or burned. Approximately 85 percent of the general population will develop an allergy if exposed to these plants. The sensitivity to the sap usually develops after several encounters with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. When the oil gets on the skin, an allergic reaction,

referred to as contact dermatitis, occurs in most exposed people as an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters.

Plant Identification

You might have heard the old saying “Leaves of three, let it be!” It is a helpful reminder for identifying poison ivy and oak, but not poison sumac which usually has clusters of 7-13 leaves. Even poison ivy and poison oak may have more than three leaves and their form may vary greatly depending upon the exact species encountered, the local environment, and the season.

Being able to identify local varieties of these poisonous plants throughout the seasons and differentiating them from common non-poisonous look-a-likes are the major keys to avoiding exposure.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

If you are working in a wooded area, you want to be on the lookout for poison ivy. It is everywhere in the United States except Hawaii and Alaska. In the East, Midwest, and the South, it grows as a vine. In the Northern and Western United States, it grows as a shrub. Each leaf has three leaflets. Leaves are green in the summer and red in the fall. In the late summer and fall, white berries may grow from the stems.

Here are a few things to remember about poison ivy.

  • Eastern poison ivy is typically a hairy, ropelike vine with three shiny green (or red in the fall) leaves budding from one small stem.
  • Western poison ivy is typically a low shrub with three leaves that do not form a climbing vine. May have yellow or green flowers and white to green-yellow or amber berries.

Poison Oak

Poison Oak

Poison oak is usually a shrub with leaves of three, similar to poison ivy. It has oak-like leaves in clusters of three. There are two distinct kinds: Eastern poison oak and Western poison oak.

  • Eastern poison oak (New Jersey to Texas) grows as a low shrub.
  • Western poison oak (Pacific Coast) grows to six-foot-tall clumps or vines up to 30 feet long. It may have yellow or green flowers and clusters of green-yellow or white berries.

Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac

In the United States, poison sumac grows in standing water in peat bogs in the Northeast and Midwest and in swampy areas in parts of the Southeast. Each leaf has clusters of seven to 13 smooth-edged leaflets. The plants can grow up to 15 feet tall. The leaves are orange in spring, green in summer, and red, orange, or yellow in fall. There may be clumps of pale yellow or cream-colored berries.

Poisonous Plant Exposure Symptoms and Solutions

Signs and symptoms of poison ivy, oak, and sumac include:

  • itching
  • redness
  • burning sensation
  • swelling
  • blisters
  • rash (may take up to 10 days to heal)

Possible solutions and controls for poison ivy, oak and sumac include:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, tucked into boots. Wear cloth or leather gloves.
  • Apply barrier creams to exposed skin.
  • Educate workers on the identification of poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants.
  • Educate workers on signs and symptoms of contact with poisonous ivy, oak, and sumac.
  • Keep rubbing alcohol accessible. It removes the oily resin up to 30 minutes after exposure.

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