May 15, 2017
Protect yourself this season
As the 2017 landscaping season ramps up to full gear, take a moment to ensure you and your staff are taking the necessary precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses caused by pests, toxic plants and the sun.

Sun safety

The Weather Network is forecasting another hot and dry summer for Ontario, making sun safety particularly important this season. According to the Canada Dermatology Association, outdoor workers “have a high risk for developing skin cancer because (they) are regularly exposed to the sun for long periods of time. Adding to the danger for outdoor workers is the fact that (they) are often in the sun during those times in the day when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which will harm the skin, is at its strongest, between noon and 2 p.m.” The CDA lists a number of ways outdoor workers can protect themselves:
  • Try to limit the amount of time you work in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade as much as possible, especially during lunch and coffee breaks.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Attach a back flap to a construction helmet to cover the back of the neck and a visor for the front of the face.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. Fabrics which do not let light through work best.
  • Apply an SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin before you go outside.
  • Reapply at midday or more often if you are perspiring heavily. Apply a broad spectrum, SPF 30 lip balm.

Giant hogweed

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), also known as Giant cow parsnip, is a perennial plant and a member of the carrot family that is becoming more common in southern and central Ontario. Giant hogweed can spread readily and grows along roadsides, ditches and streams. It invades old fields and native habitats such as open woodlands.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, “the clear watery sap of Giant hogweed contains toxins that can cause severe dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). You can get severe burns if you get the sap on your skin and the skin is then exposed to sunlight. Symptoms occur within 48 hours and consist of painful blisters. Purplish scars may form that last for many years.”

The best way to prevent injury if you come into contact with giant hogweed is to wear waterproof gloves, long pants and a long sleeve shirt, as well as eye protection. It is ideal to wear a disposable “spray suit” coverall over top of your normal clothing (spray suits are commercial grade waterproof coveralls). Remove protective clothing carefully to avoid transferring any sap from your clothing onto your skin. Wash your rubber gloves with soap and water, and then take off your spray suit or outer clothing. Wash your rubber gloves again and then take them off. Finally, take off your protective eye wear. Put non-disposable clothing in the laundry and wash yourself immediately with soap and water.

In the event of any direct exposure/contact, or if you get sap on your skin, wash the area well with soap and water. Keep the affected area out of the sun. If photo dermatitis (inflammation of the skin caused by exposure to sunlight) occurs, see a doctor. If you get sap in your eye, flush your eye with water immediately and see a doctor right away.

If you are removing a giant hogweed during the summer, and it has not yet flowered, dig the stems and roots out and dry them thoroughly before disposing of them. If the plant has flowered, remove flower heads before they ripen (when they are white) to prevent seeds from spreading and growing. Note: If the flower heads have changed from white to green, seeds are being produced and it will be very hard to remove the seed heads and/or cut the plant without spreading the seeds. Return to the area regularly and remove any new growth.

Never burn or compost giant hogweed. Carefully remove flower heads from stems and place them in black plastic bags. Make sure not to drop any seeds while you are doing this. Seal the bags tightly and leave them in direct sunlight for about a week. Allow stems and roots to dry out thoroughly before disposing of them. Call your municipality to find out if bags containing giant hogweed can be sent to your local municipal landfill site. In the event of any direct exposure/contact to this plant If you get sap on your skin wash the area well with soap and water. Keep the affected area out of the sun. If photo dermatitis (inflammation of the skin caused by exposure to sunlight) occurs, see a doctor. If you get sap in your eye, flush your eye with water immediately and see a doctor immediately.

West Nile virus

While the chance of being bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile virus is small, it is still important to minimize exposure to mosquitoes in areas where West Nile virus activity has been documented.The Ontario Ministry of Labour recommends:
  • Wear light-coloured protective clothing (mosquitoes are attracted to darker, more intense colours) including a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Tuck pants into socks for extra protection.
  • Reduce exposure by eliminating likely breeding sites (ie: standing water, grounds, parking lots, ditches and flat roofs on a regular basis [or at least once a week].
  • Take particular care at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET or another federally approved personal insect repellant according to the directions on the label, before outdoor activities. The amount of DEET in the insect repellent should be no greater than 30 per cent for adults. If you are unable to use DEET products, you may wish to use one of the other federally approved insect repellents.


Landscape crews working in wooded areas are at risk of contracting Lyme disease from infected blacklegged ticks. Public Health Ontario has tracked high numbers of infected ticks in Eastern Ontario (Ottawa, Cornwall and Kingston), as well along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour outlines how workers can protect themselves:
  • Wear light-coloured clothing to help find ticks more easily.
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and tuck pants into your socks. Wear a hat if contact with overhead vegetation cannot be avoided. Wear closed footwear.
  • Use an insect repellent or bug spray containing DEET or Icaridin on clothes and exposed skin. Always read the label for directions.
  • Avoid bushy areas and long grass if possible.
  • Immediately after outdoor work, do a total body inspection for ticks, paying close attention to your scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, naval and behind your ears and knees. Use a mirror to check the back of your body or have someone else check for you.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors to wash off a tick that may not be attached through a bite.
  • Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
  • If you find any ticks, report it to your employer so that other workers can be made aware of the hazard and recheck themselves.