For many employees, a workplace injury can be directly tied to either an accident or repetitive stress. The strain of moving a box from the conveyor belt to the shipping pallet over and over for years versus tripping over a debris pile and falling down the stairs – both can result in serious bodily harm. However, a third type of work accident is often overlooked until it’s too late – toxic exposure.
Many industries such as factory and construction rely on strong chemicals. These materials can be used either while cleaning or in the manufacturing process itself. Unfortunately, physical contact with these chemicals or breathing in the vapors can cause serious – even irreparable – harm.
While there are countless chemicals that can lead to injury, three stand out as the most common.
- Benzene is a chemical that is commonly used in the production of other materials such as detergents, drugs, rubber and plastics. Short term exposure to benzene can lead to unconsciousness, confusion, headaches and nervous system disruptions. If exposure continues for a long duration, workers might develop anemia or leukemia.
- Exposure to asbestos dust or fibers generally entails inhalation or ingestion. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that contains significant heat-resistant properties. It was used in both consumer and construction products. Unfortunately, as the materials deteriorated, workers began inhaling the fibers which could lead to devastating lung conditions including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
- Much like asbestos, crystalline silica is a naturally occurring material. Many products either refined or manufactured utilize silica including ceramics, glass and bricks. When products containing silica are crumbled, inhalation of the dust can result in lung cancer, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It is important that workers keep themselves and their environment safe. From the use of personal protective equipment (gauntlets, respirators, goggles) to environmental safety (proper ventilation, commercial-grade clothes washing) employers and employees must remain diligent in keeping the job and workers safe.