There are literally thousands of chemical products used in the workplace, including cleaners, paints, pesticides, adhesives, solvents, inks, lubricants, and fuels. Theses chemicals most often come in the form of powders, solids, gasses, granules, or liquids. Add to this the numerous toxic chemicals that are generated during normal workplace activities such as, chemical byproduct, vapors, and dust––a common example being fumes that are generated from welding.
Of all the thousands of substances used in the workplace, there are those that have been identified as being safe and, when used under normal circumstances, to pose no threat to your health. But then there are many chemicals that were previously considered safe, but are now known to be potentially harmful––asbestos is a well-known example is this.
There are also chemicals that have been rightly classified as hazardous to your health and that pose a serious threat if not handled correctly. And finally, there are those that still have not been adequately studied to determine if they pose a threat to your health. But, regardless of how much we know about a particular chemical substance if you are exposed to it under less than safe conditions, you may suffer serious harm to your health.
How can exposure to chemicals harm you?
The starting point for dealing with hazardous chemical is to know in what circumstance they can do you harm. Generally, a toxic chemical will not cause you any harm unless you have direct contact with it, and only then when it is in a form where it can enter your body. Direct contact with chemicals in the workplace is common, particularly due to substances being handled with the hands or ingested in small amounts due to poor hygiene practices. However, the majority of workplace injuries caused by exposure to chemicals happen when a worker breathes in contaminated air.
What are the health effects associated with chemical exposure?
Exposure to toxic chemicals can have both local or systemic effects. Local effects such as skin, throat, or eye irritation occur at the point where the chemical makes contact with your body. Systemic effects such as liver or kidney damage occur at sites that are distant from the chemical’s route of entry.
The effects of chemical exposure may also be either acute or chronic. Acute effects such as headaches, nausea or vomiting are usually evident immediately or in a short time after exposure to the chemical. Chronic effects such as asthma, chronic beryllium diseases, mesothelioma, cancer, silicosis, asbestosis, on the other hand, manifest much later and after cumulative exposure to a particular chemical.
Acute effects are most often reversible, meaning that they are temporary and often disappear once exposure to the chemical has ceased. Chronic effects, however, are in many cases irreversible and result in permanent damage to your health and the need for lifelong treatment.
What can be done to minimize exposure to chemicals in the workplace?
There are several workplace practices that can be employed by workers and instituted by employers that can be effective at minimizing the risk of exposure to chemicals in the workplace and the consequences thereof. These include the use of masks and respirators to minimize the inhalation of dusts and fumes; the use gloves, aprons and protective eyewear to protect the skin and eyes; and increased personal hygiene i.e. washing your face and hands after handling hazardous material, showering after work and properly treating work clothes––even to the point of not wearing them home.
Compensation for exposure to Chemicals in the workplace
Everyone has the right to a healthy and safe workplace. If you were injured due to being unnecessarily and negligently exposed to chemicals at work, you can file a complaint with The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Furthermore, if you are an employee, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to cover the cost of your medical treatment, lost wages and any disability that results from your injury.
In addition, if your exposure to a particular chemical in the workplace was due to the negligence of someone other than your employer, you may have grounds to file a third-party toxic exposure lawsuit against the negligent party. However, because your exposure to the chemical may have come from more than just a single source, it may not be readily apparent who you can hold liable.
Therefore, it’s advisable that if you are an employee who has suffered an illness or injury or contracted a disease associated with being exposed to chemicals, to contact a qualified workers compensation lawyer who has experience in handling claims involving chemical exposure and who can assist you in determining who you can hold liable for the harm you have suffered.