Millions of us are exposed to materials in our workplace that could prove dangerous to our health and safety without proper handling. Exposure to chemicals in the workplace can cause harm ranging from mild irritations to cancer and even death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than 13 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin.
All employees have the right to safe and healthy working conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues guidelines and regulations to employers, with the purpose of protecting workers from toxic exposure at work.
Common chemical exposure risks include
These and other threatening chemicals can be present everywhere from hospitals and restaurants to construction sites and other locations out in the field.
How chemicals enter the body
Chemicals may enter the body through four major routes.
Inhalation (breathing) – The most common way workplace chemicals enter the body.
Skin contact – Some chemicals by direct or indirect contact can damage the skin or pass through the skin and into the bloodstream.
Ingestion – Workplace chemicals can be accidentally swallowed if food, drink or even cigarettes are contaminated.
Injection – Injection may occur when a sharp object like a needle punctures the skin and injects a chemical directly into the bloodstream.
Once the chemical has entered the body, it can be distributed to anywhere in the body by the bloodstream. Regardless of the way the way the chemical enters the body, they can attack and harm any organ.
Effects of chemicals on the body
Some exposure to chemicals may result in immediate injuries such as chemical burns, while some exposure takes a toll over time. If repeated over the years of employment, even relatively minor chemical exposures can lead to life-changing medical conditions.
Types of workplace chemicals
Carcinogen– A chemical that can potentially cause cancer, for example, asbestos.
Corrosive – A chemical that causes visible destruction, irreversible alterations, for example, hydrochloric acid.
Irritant – A chemical that is not corrosive that causes reversible inflammatory effects on living tissue at the site of contact, for example, strong solvents.
Mutagen – A chemical that damages chromosomes, for example, benzene.
Sensitiser – A chemical that will cause an allergic reaction in a substantial number of exposed people, for example, isocyanates.
Teratogen – A chemical that causes birth defects, for example, thalidomide.
Common injuries due to chemical exposure
Harmful chemicals and substances in the workplace are responsible for a large number of chronic illnesses and deaths that can be untraceable because the symptoms appear over the course of many years instead of suddenly. Other injuries include:
- Throat or lung injuries
- Nerve and neurological injuries
Tips to help prevent chemical exposure
- Substitute irritating workplace substances with more skin-friendly substances.
- Implement technical measures to reduce skin contact such as capsuling machinery to avoid splashes on the skin.
- Rotate job positions among employees to limit more intense exposure to harsh environments.
- Wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks to prevent skin contact.
After it was discovered that long-term exposure to asbestos has lasting effects on the human body, OSHA implemented rules that restrict chemical exposure at work. These rules regulate a number of chemicals that can be present in the workplace and provide employers with guidelines for training new employees.
What to do if you have been exposed to chemicals in the workplace
If you have reason to believe you have been exposed to a chemical in the workplace, follow these steps:
- Report your exposure to a supervisor immediately
- Explain exactly how your exposure occurred
- Get the names of anyone who may have witnessed your exposure and document them
- Get medical treatment if you need it
- Make sure to explain to your health care provider that you were exposed to a toxic chemical.
- Consult with a chemical exposure attorney to guide you in the next steps you should take
Because many of the symptoms that related to chemical exposure are also associated with other common medical conditions, it can be hard to connect an employee’s illness to chemical exposure. If you suspect a toxic chemical in or around your work area, you should alert your employer and consult with a doctor. Document what symptoms you are experiencing and when they started to help your healthcare provider connect your health issues with the chemical exposure.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
If you have been injured by chemical exposure, The Carlson Law Firm is ready to assist you. Our experienced attorneys will help you seek fair compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and other losses. Contact us today. We are available to you 24/7.