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Tips to Working Around Poisonous Plants

NOISH – Summer weather marks the season of landscaping and an increase in foliage. While most plant life can be either worked around or removed from the job site, there are several types of plants that pose a health hazard to your workers. Poison ivy, stinging nettle and poison oak are all common throughout the Pacific Northwest. About 90% of workers who come into contact with these plants experience an itchy or burning red rash, bumps, blisters or swelling. Others experience more severe reactions that require medical attention. Exposure typically occurs when skin makes contact with the leaves of these plants, or when the plants’ oils are inhaled during cutting or burning. For more information on the specific reactions and descriptions of these poisonous plants, you can visit the CDC website here.

NIOSH recommends that employers train their outdoor workers on understanding how to avoid exposure to these plants, including how to identify the plants and what to do to remedy any reaction. Below is a quick outline of preventative measures as well as the steps to take after exposure.


  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and gloves.
  • Consider using barrier creams that contain bentoquatam.
  • Clean tools after every use with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Be sure to wear disposable gloves. The oils from the plants can remain active on objects for up to 5 years.
  • Refrain from burning plants if you believe they may be poisonous.

If you have been exposed

  • Avoid rubbing or scratching effected area.
  • Rinse the affected skin immediately with soap and water or poison plant wash.
  • Be sure to scrub under the nails to remove trapped oils.
  • Apply a wet compress or calamine lotion to the skin. Never put calamine lotion on broken skin or blisters.
  • Take an antihistamine to help reduce swelling if needed.
  • If severe reaction occurs, call 911.

Always scan the job site for potentially poisonous plants before work begins. If any are present on the site, you should include prevention and remedy methods to your site specific safety plan, and remove them if needed.  Removal of these plants can be dangerous, so ensure proper precautions are established and followed through accordingly.

For more information or for guidance on safety procedures, feel free to contact The Integrated Group at 425-822-8500 or

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