LSAW: Poison Ivy & Other Skin Threats

Locator Safety & Appreciation Week (LSAW) is a celebration of utility locators’ hard work and an acknowledgment of the hazards they face every day in the field. Locators play crucial and often underappreciated roles in protecting the public and our underground infrastructure. Take some time this week to thank a locator in your life! We’ll be sharing locator safety content throughout the week to spread awareness of the difficult work they perform. Learn more about LSAW and how to participate at

Locator Safety Threat: Poison Ivy & Other Skin Threats


Every locator will inevitably encounter, and have to navigate, a wide variety of vegetation while on the job. Barring an education or background in botany, some of these encounters are bound to be with unfamiliar plants. Some plants, when allowed to touch the skin, can cause severe and uncomfortable reactions. The first step to avoiding exposure is to wear protective clothing, including gloves, boots, pants, and long sleeves. The next step is to learn to identify potentially harmful plants. Identification information from the Center for Disease Control. Photos courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Poison Ivy

“Leaves of three, let it be!” is a common phrase used to remember perhaps the most well-known poisonous plant, poison ivy. It is helpful, but even poison ivy can form more than three leaves, and its appearance can vary significantly between seasons.

  • Eastern poison ivy is typically a hairy, ropelike vine with three shiny green (or red in the fall) leaves budding from one small stem
  • Western poison ivy is typically a low shrub with three leaves that does not form a climbing vine
  • May have yellow or green flowers and white to green-yellow or amber berries

Poison Oak

Both poison oak and poison ivy contain the same toxic resin, urushiol. Both plants also typically have “leaves of three” and can grow as a shrub or a vine. Unlike poison ivy, however, poison oak leaves have hairs on both sides. The leaves also resemble a standard lobed oak tree leaf (hence the name).

  • Typically a shrub with leaves of three, similar to poison ivy
  • Pacific poison oak may be vine-like
  • May have yellow or green flowers and clusters of green-yellow or white berries

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac, not as well-known as poison ivy and oak, is a small tree found in wetland and hardwood areas. It’s significantly less common but should be similarly avoided. Sumac is the most toxic of the three poisonous plants as a cause of contact dermatitis.

  • Woody shrub that has stems that contain 7-13 leaves arranged in pairs
  • May have glossy, pale yellow, or cream-colored berries
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