Make poison safety as routine as your use of poison chemicals

Updated Feb 22, 2023
Without the proper protection, landscapers can be exposed to toxic chemicals. Photo: jetsandzeppelins/FlickrWithout the proper protection, landscapers can be exposed to toxic chemicals.
Photo: jetsandzeppelins/Flickr

Unfortunately, in the landscaping field there is no shortage of potential hazards, and when it comes to accidents involving poison, the effect on employees can range from minor skin irritation to death.

For companies that provide lawn care maintenance, working with pesticides is a regular part of the job, but the proper precautions must be taken.

Whenever working with fertilizers or pesticides be sure to wear gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants to prevent skin irritation. It is important to read the pesticide label as this will let the user know the toxicity level of the product.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires employers to provide a manufacturer label and material safety data sheet for the chemicals being used on a job site in case of an accident. While the most common type of exposure is dermal and is only an irritant in most cases, pesticides can also be inhaled or enter the eyes.

Respiratory issues can develop if certain chemicals are breathed in while ocular exposure can cause temporary or permanent blindness. Other chemicals that enter through the eyes may not irritate, but pass on into the body.

Sometimes, a different source of poisoning can be identified: the landscape itself. There are lots of plants that may look harmless but are poisonous once ingested. However, landscapers are far more likely to come in contact with poison ivy than consume some nightshade.

Poison plants include poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, each containing a toxin called urushiol oil that causes the skin to break out in rashes and blisters. Poison ivy and poison oak can be identified by their three leaflets. Poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaflets and grows as a shrub or small tree.

These plants shouldn’t be burned, as the resins can cause lung irritation in people even far away from the site.

Another poisonous plant to steer clear of is the giant hogweed, which can grow 15 feet tall and has small white flowers. This plant causes phytophotodermatitis, a condition in which the skin becomes sensitive to sunlight and severely inflamed.

Another type of poisoning that can occur in the green industry is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced from the incomplete burning of gasoline and other materials containing carbon.

It is important to operate equipment outdoors and if it must run inside, ensure that there is adequate ventilation. Working on a lawn tractor with the engine running inside a garage is how one employee died of CO poisoning.

Portable generators are often the culprit in CO poisoning cases so it’s very important to run them outside and downwind of occupied spaces.

Symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness or nausea. If you suspect a co-worker is experiencing CO poisoning, it is important to access fresh air and call 911.

High levels of exposure can cause victims to pass out and die. Acute poisoning can result in permanent damage of organs, such as the heart and brain, and eventually death.

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