Workplace safety awareness is key to keeping your staff safe whilst on the job. There are various different hazards involved with each individual industry but it’s often the non-obvious ones that can be easily forgotten to protect against. In particular, poisonous plants pose a great threat to outdoor workers, especially in the summer months. Here’s everything you need to know and how you can protect your workforce against them.
Types of Poisonous Plants
Many people are aware that there are poisonous plants out there, but they aren’t certain on what exactly they are. The most common ones found in the UK are:
Renowned for both its hallucinogenic and lethal properties, both the foliage and berries contain deadly toxins. The berries are said to have quite a pleasant, sweet taste and are therefore easy to mistake for edible fruit, such as bilberries, but have tragic consequences.
This plant reduces the skin's protection against the effects of UV radiation. Exposure to sunlight after contact causes severe skin rashes, blistering and burns, but the effects may not start for 24 hours after contact.
The entire plant is highly toxic and fatal if consumed. Gloves and long sleeves should be worn when handling Monkshood to avoid skin contact with the sap. Aconite and aconitine are thought to be the key toxins. Ingestion of even a small amount results in severe stomach upset, but it is the effect on the heart, which is often the cause of death.
Five alkaloids are said to be present in hemlock. It causes violent vomiting and causes paralysis of the nervous system. Death is usually the result of respiratory failure.
Foxgloves are well-known for its toxicity in all parts of the plant. Consuming the leaves can cause oral and abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe cases, symptoms can include visual disturbances, plus heart and kidney problems.
The berries are poisonous, similar to the nightshade family. Their appealing appearance make the fruits particularly dangerous, although they are rarely fatal if consumed.
Who’s at Risk?
This might seem like an obvious answer but anybody who works outdoors could be at risk from poisonous plants. The main job roles at risk though are:
- Construction workers
How You Can Protect your Workers from Poisonous Plants
The side effects of these plants can prove to be very nasty and workers will need indefinite time off to recover from them. This can prove costly to your business as it may leave you understaffed and under the required capacity to work most effectively. That’s why it’s important that you take measures to protect your workforce.
The various steps you can take include:
- Ensure that you and your whole team download plant identifier apps for your smartphone. A quick, easy way to tell whether a job will require extra caution and keep your workforce safe.
- Regular workforce safety awareness meetings should be carried out. It’s important for your team to become familiar with the above hazardous plants and be able to easily identify them.
- Employees should never touch or brush up against any of these plants with bare skin.
- If your staff must work near the plant, make sure that they are provided with the right equipment to cover their bodies. Coveralls, boots, rubber gloves and a face shield to protect their skin, eyes and face from contact with the plant are all recommended. Plus, use of impermeable protective clothing increases the risk of heat stress so appropriate precautions should be taken to prevent heat stress.
- Boots and rubber gloves should be thoroughly washed with soap, water and a scrub brush before removal.
- Remove clothing carefully to avoid contact with sap that may be on their clothing.
- Wash rubber gloves again before removing them.
- Put non-disposable clothing in the laundry and wash with soap and water.
- Wash all equipment that has touched the plant, sap or oil.
- Avoid using power tools near or burning the plant – damage can release toxic sap or oil.
- Ensure that the only person who attempts to control hazardous plants is someone who knows:
- The hazards.
- The controls to prevent contact including eye protection plus facial protection from sprays/splashes of sap/oil.
- How to prevent further spread of the plant.
What Action to Take if Somebody is Affected
However much you do try and protect your staff from the dangers of poisonous plants, it is possible that they still can be affected by them. If somebody on your team unfortunately does show side effects of poisonous plants, you should:
- Immediately wash the affected area with plenty of soap and cold water.
- It’s important you use cold water. Hot water would open up the pores of the skin, which would then allow the poisonous oils or sap to be absorbed deeper and easier by the skin.
- Cover up the affected areas and avoid direct sunlight.
- Seek medical attention.
Keep Your Outdoor Team Safe This Summer
It’s not just poisonous plants that pose a threat to your workforces safety this summer. There are various factors that you can abide by to help keep them safe when working outside. We've created a Summer eBook which includes tips and advice on how to clothe and equip your team for warmer temperatures and the risks of the outdoors. Download your FREE guide below: