Most people know about poison ivy, but there is a new, much more poisonous plant invading Ontario’s outdoors and putting workers at risk. It’s called giant hogweed. Use this article as a safety talk to inform your workers about the hazards.
Who’s at risk
Outdoor workers in southern Ontario can encounter giant hogweed near roadsides, streams, vacant lots, and waste areas.
What it looks like
Giant hogweed is a tall plant that grows up to an astonishing five metres high. Small whisker-like hairs and reddish-purple spots cover its stem. From June to August, it produces a white flower that resembles an umbrella and can stretch one metre wide.
How it can it hurt you
Various parts of the plant, including stems and leaves, release a clear watery sap that is extremely toxic:
skin contact with the sap in the presence of UV light (such as sunlight) can cause swelling, itching, and blistering that lasts for months. Some people then become sensitive to UV light and experience a skin-color change that can last for years
if the sap gets into your eyes, it can cause permanent blindness.
How to control the hazard
Employers and supervisors: Before work starts, notify workers about giant hogweed in the area and how it can hurt them.
Workers and others:
Never touch or brush up against the plant with bare skin.
If you must work near the plant, cover all body parts using impermeable coveralls, gloves, and a face shield to protect the eyes and face.
Avoid using power tools near the plant because breaking or crushing the stem or leaves can release the toxic sap.
The only person that should remove a plant is someone who knows
what controls will prevent contact
how to prevent dispersal of the plant (seeds scattering and later growing into full-grown plants).
What to do if you’re exposed
Wash the affected area immediately with soap and water.
Stay out of sunlight and cover up exposed areas.
Get medical attention immediately.
Adapted from a hazard alert published by Infrastructure Health & Safety Association, a member organization of Health & Safety Ontario.
More groundskeeping safety resources
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