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How to Handle Chemical Exposure in the Workplace

Monday March 20, 2023

If you work with chemicals, you know they can be very hazardous. Chemical exposure in the workplace can result in serious immediate injury and long-term chronic health problems. 

If you have experienced an injury from workplace chemical exposure, you need legal advice from a firm that understands workers’ compensation and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards. We can help you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

OSHA's Chemical Safety Standards in the Workplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates how employers and employees can use chemicals in the workplace and what types of protective equipment they must have, depending on the chemicals. 

Each state’s occupational safety department has its safety regulations. For instance, Connecticut has its branch of OSHA in the state government, and both agencies regulate chemical hazards in the workplace. That is why employers should ensure they follow regulations specific to their state.

OSHA guides workplaces on how to control exposure to hazardous chemicals and what to do to recognize dangerous substances and limit employee exposure. Its best recommendation is that employers try to reduce or eliminate the use of the most toxic chemicals. Where this is impossible, employers should make physical changes in engineering procedures to decrease contact with dangerous chemicals and danger on the job. 

Employers must utilize administrative and work practice controls as the next line of defense. These refer to adjusting working schedules to reduce employee exposure. Personal protective equipment is the last and least desirable measure of protection because it implies close, inevitable contact with chemicals. Protective equipment includes protective clothing, respiratory protection, gloves, and eyewear. 

The Different Ways Workers Can Be Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals

Most people think of chemical exposure in the workplace as breathing fumes or having liquids splashed onto the skin. One can, however, get exposed to toxins or chemicals at work in many other ways. These situations often happen when employers rush employees into duties or give them improper protective equipment. 

Here are the five ways chemicals can cause health issues by the route of exposure:

Skin Contact

Chemicals that get in contact with the skin can cause different types of injuries, depending on the nature of the chemical agents:

  • Corrosive, acidic, or hot chemicals damage the skin surface, which causes extensive burn injuries by destroying the tissue itself.
  • Absorption injuries occur when chemical substances enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, or eyes. 
  • Employees can prevent skin contact and ensure chemical safety in the workplace by using protective equipment, such as gloves and eyewear, and cautiously treating corrosive or acidic chemicals. 

Inhalation Exposure

Inhalation exposure happens when employees breathe in fumes or smoke from chemicals. Some chemicals have a very low boiling point and evaporate easily at room temperature. Others produce fumes when used in industrial processes. Either way, the absorption of chemicals through the lungs (and then the bloodstream) can cause a series of injuries to the entire body. Dust and particles small enough to be inhaled can also injure the lungs.

Employees can avoid inhalation exposure by using respirators, dust masks, and fume hoods and keeping the enclosed working areas properly ventilated. 

Ingestion

Ingestion means swallowed or eaten. Although it is rare to intentionally eat hazardous chemicals in the workplace, drinking or smoking near locations where chemicals are in use can cause liquids or cigarettes to become contaminated and lead to the ingestion of toxins.

Employers should prohibit eating, drinking, and smoking near toxic chemicals. Workers should take care when entering and leaving break areas to avoid contaminating their clothing with chemical residue.

Injection

The injection refers to the direct introduction of chemicals into the bloodstream, usually using a syringe. In the workplace, this can happen when chemicals are present on broken glass or jagged metal during other accidents, such as explosions or collisions.

Common Occupational Chemical Hazards and Their Adverse Health Effects

Many common chemicals exist in multiple forms. For instance, ammonia is liquid in glass cleaners but solid in fertilizers. For that reason, OSHA recommends that workers review Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which list the occupational exposure limits and effects of exposure for each chemical in their workplace.

The following is a short list of some common chemicals in the workplace and their health risks:

  • Arsenic. Usually solid, found in preservatives, electronics, and glass production.
    • Health risks: Nervous system poison. Long-term risks include cancer and respiratory damage.
  • Lead. Usually solid, with a low melting point, found in car batteries, ammunition, and electronics.
    • Health risks: Birth defects, brain damage, and anemia. Acute toxicity can cause organ failure.
  • Toluene. A solvent, usually liquid, evaporates easily. Found in paint thinners, glue, explosives, inks, and dyes.
    • Health risks: Brain damage, liver and kidney damage, and nerve damage.
  • Mercury. Liquid with a very low evaporation point. Found in medical equipment, electronics, and precision machinery.
    • Health risks: Nervous system damage, brain damage, immune system damage, organ failure, and death.
  • Pesticides. May be liquid, solid, or gas. “Pesticides” covers a wide range of substances that are usually organophosphates or carbamates and can cause nerve damage in high enough concentrations.
    • Health risks: Eye damage, skin damage, nausea, diarrhea, respiratory problems, and skin irritation.

What to Do if You've Been Harmed by Hazardous Substances on the Job

Chemical spills in the workplace are terrifying events. When toxic chemicals get loose in the workplace, your first act should be to get to a safe location and get decontaminated and treated for any injuries caused by exposure to chemicals and other toxins.

After that, you should contact a legal professional. Your employer may pressure you to file a workers’ compensation claim and get back to work as soon as possible, and a workers’ compensation attorney can help you to understanding your rights with regard to workplace injuries. Many workplace chemical hazards also involve OSHA violations. One of the most common OSHA violations is failure to provide adequate respiratory protection to workers, which can lead to inhalation injuries during a chemical spill.

If you have been the victim of chemical exposure in the workplace, you also need to consider the possible future effects of the exposure. Many hazardous chemicals have long-term effects that may not appear for months or even years after exposure. You need an attorney who can advise you on how to document your injuries to protect yourself in case symptoms emerge later.

Occupational chemical exposures lead to lasting effects on worker health. Do not wait to see if your injuries are serious. Contact an attorney right away.

Find Out How We Can Help You Exercise Your Rights

At Kennedy, Johnson, Schwab & Roberge, we understand how workplace injuries affect you and your family. Our attorneys will take the time to learn the details of your case and give you their best opinion on how to proceed with your claim.

Chemical injuries in the workplace involve workers’ compensation as well as private insurance, and you need an attorney who can help you navigate the complex rules governing insurance and OSHA regulations to get you the compensation you deserve.

Contact us online or call us at 203-865-8430 to schedule your free and confidential consultation with us today. We are here to fight for your rights.

Get in Touch

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation

At Kennedy, Johnson, Schwab & Roberge, P.C., we handle all cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that we do not get paid unless and until you receive a settlement or a jury award.

Schedule a free, confidential consultation with a skilled Connecticut personal injury lawyer today.

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