Toolbox Talk: Poison Ivy

By Published On: April 12, 2023

Poison PlantsThat itches just reading the words. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac have ruthless defense mechanisms that are caustic to the skin. (Caustic means it irritates, burns, or causes a rash on contact). These plants contain a sap within their roots, stems, leaves, and fruits. That sap is released when the plants are bruised or crushed, easily contaminating the skin, clothing, shoes, tools, even animals.

Around 85% of the population have an allergic reaction to these plants. Typically the reaction is a rash with itchy skin. Some unfortunate cases develop lung irritation from inhaling the smoke from burning the plants. In the early phases of a construction project it is very possible to come into contact with these plants, so here are the hazards and solutions.


Poison Ivy 

  • Grows everywhere in the U.S. except for Hawaii and Alaska
  • In the East, Midwest, and South it grows as a vine
  • Northern and Western regions it grows as a shrub
  • Each leaf has 3 leaflets, which are green in summer and red in fall

Poison Oak

  • Eastern regions it grows as a low shrub
  • Western regions it grows to 6 foot tall clumps, or vines up to 30 feet long
  • Oak-like fuzzy leaves in clusters of 3, with yellow berries

Poison Sumac

  • Grows in standing water in the Northeast and Midwest
  • Grows in swampy areas of the Southeast
  • Each leaf has 7-13 smooth-edged leaflets
  • Can grow up to 15 feet tall, green in the summer and red/orange/yellow in the fall

Signs and Symptoms

All three of these plants produce the same types of reactions which include: Itching, Redness, Burning Sensation, Swelling, Blisters, and Rash for up to 10 days. 

Solutions and Prevention

You won’t find a direct standard in the OSHA regulations about Poison Ivy, it is covered by a few blanket regulations called Health Hazards in Construction. The solutions for biological hazards are all about PPE, Hazard Awareness, and Training.

  1. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, tucked into gloves and boots
  2. Wear gloves, cloth or leather as to not tear while working 
  3. Apply barrier creams to the skin. These keep the plants oils from soaking in
  4. Train employees to identify the plants, and the proper precautions to take
  5. Keep rubbing alcohol in the first aid kit, it can remove the oil within 30 min of contact and potentially stop the reaction
  6. Spend the time at the end of the day to clean up yourself, equipment, and clothing to prevent contaminating your family


Not all hazards have direct rules. As a biological hazard it affects individuals differently, so it is better to lean to the side of caution. Remember the overall rule of safety is to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards so people can work comfortably and return home safely. 


For more Toolbox Talks related to Health Hazards, check out these articles: Wood Dust, Ticks, Heat Stress


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