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Dangerous chemicals in the workplace

When you are at home, you probably don't think much about the hazardous chemicals that you use. Cleaning supplies, bleach and even nail polish remover can be very toxic to humans.

In your own home you are responsible for your own safety. But at work, it is your employer's duty to make sure employees are acting with safety around dangerous chemicals.

Staying safe around hazardous substances

According to OSHA, American workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses each year due to chemical exposure. There are another 50,000 deaths related to chemicals used at work. Scientists have linked chemical exposure to cancers, reproductive diseases and other disorders.

If your company has dangerous chemicals on site, all employees should be educated on their use, as well as protective measures. Chemicals should be kept in a safe place. Sometimes, exposure occurs because chemicals were not stored away from food and drink.

Four ways you can be hurt

Most commonly, chemicals get into a worker's system through one of four methods:

  • Inhalation or breathing the chemical
  • Skin contact with the substance
  • Ingesting, eating or drinking the substance
  • Injection, which is very uncommon in most workplaces but could happen if the skin is punctured

Inhalation is a bigger problem than many realize, simply because when you work hard, you have to breathe harder. When you take deeper breaths because of physical work, you inhale more of the pollutants in the air. The particles can then be trapped in the lungs and enter the blood stream. Some chemicals actually cause burns to the mouth and lungs.

Chemicals can easily enter the skin, even though the epidermis is responsible for being the first barrier against these substances. Weaker solutions may not be as bad as undiluted acids and bases, but there is always a possibility that the skin will absorb a great deal of something harmful. Chemicals can also enter the body through the eyes.

OSHA recommends eliminating or reducing hazardous workplace chemicals by replacing them with safer options. Not only does this help employees, but generally it is better for the environment and the budget.

Employers must keep employees safe

You have a right to be safe at work. If you are experiencing an unsafe workplace, you should contact your local OSHA office and report it.

If you have been injured by dangerous chemicals on the job, you may need an employee rights attorney to get you the benefits you deserve under workers' compensation law. Get the legal advice you need if you have questions.

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