Exposure to Toxic & Hazardous Substances at Work

It is a misconception that toxic substances can only be found in hazardous workplaces like nuclear power plants, pesticide plants, or textile tanning workshops. Toxic substances can be found in even daily household products like cleaners, inside prescription and over-the-counter drugs, gasoline, alcohol, pesticides, fuel oil and cosmetics. These ordinary products can be toxic and harmful to our health. 

Exposure to toxic or hazardous substances at work should be one of the primary concerns of the management. Because workers can be exposed to toxic chemicals in a number of ways, special attention should be given in disposing such harmful substances.

Toxic substances could release toxic fumes which could cause damage to the wind pipe and lungs when inhaled. The blood could carry the harmful substances in the fumes throughout the body. Long term exposure could lead to diseases like lung cancer and occupational asthma.

Sometimes, exposure be via the skin. The harmful substances, whether in gases or liquid form, gets in direct contact with skin causing health problems. Once it is absorbed by the skin, the toxins could enter the bloodstream.

Ingestion or swallowing of food, drink or other substances that have been exposed to toxic chemicals is another way of exposure. When ingested, the chemicals are sent to the rest of the body through the blood as well.

Asbestos is one of the usual suspects of toxic contamination in office and building spaces. Sometimes, there are still remnants of asbestos that were used in older buildings. Once asbestos began to crumble, the asbestos fibers are released into the air. When large quantities of asbestos fibers are inhaled it can cause a condition called asbestosis which is scarring of the lungs making breathing difficult, mesothelioma or cancer of the lining of the chest, and lung cancer.

Ammonia is another toxic substance that is known to be used in the manufacturing of dyes, drugs, synthetic fibers, plastics and explosives. But also, ammonia is a common ingredient in cleaning materials. When inhaled, ammonia causes irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory tract areas. Skin and eye irritation is also normal for direct contacts with ammonia gas. But contact with concentrated ammonia would result to skin burns, permanent eye damage or blindness. The substance is also highly poisonous and can easily burn the stomach lining when ingested.

Cleaning solutions is Hydrochloric acid (Hcl). Also known as muriatic acid, contact with hydrochloric acid can result to irritation and burning of the eyes and skin; coughing, hoarseness, inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract; and chest pains.

Tetrachloroethene is a toxic chemical that is used in dry-cleaning and can be found in some paint and spot removers, water repellents, brake and wood cleaners, and glues. Noticeable effects include dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and poor balance. Some studies indicate that longer exposure to the substance increases the risk of developing cancer.

Pesticides or insecticides contain a lot of substances that are considered toxic to humans. Often, exposure through swallowing would trigger the most harmful effects, although, irritation and burning can occur when the skin gets in direct contact.

Proper handling of toxic chemicals is the key for keeping your workplace safe. If avoiding usage of such chemicals is possible, then that would be the best solution for a healthier work place.