What your employer should do to protect you from toxic exposure

Hazardous and toxic chemicals are a fact of life in many Pennsylvania workplaces. With proper precautions, the health risks to the workforce can be kept to a minimum.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several suggestions for workers looking to protect themselves from toxins. They include:

  • Substitution. Swapping a dangerous substance for one that performs a similar task but is less hazardous to humans.
  • Isolation. Putting a barrier between the material and the worker. For example, using machine guards, electrical insulation, glove boxes and remote controlled equipment.
  • Ventilation. Diluting the concentration of the chemical in the workplace by letting in clean air, or capturing the chemical in the workplace atmosphere and removing it.
  • Administrative control. Management can instill practices, like limiting access to hazardous area and adjusting work schedules, to reduce the risk of illness.
  • Protective equipment. Using devices like a ventilator, mask and protective clothing to reduce exposure.

Education is a key safety measure. Employers at workplaces where hazardous chemical or toxins are present are legally required to disclose information about those materials to employees. Many times, the employer provides “Material Safety Data Sheets,” or MSDS, to workers. An MSDS informs readers of proper procedures for working with hazardous chemicals. Things such as toxicity, health effects, what to do in case of a spill or leak, and first aid procedures is often all included.

Workers who get exposed to dangerous chemicals may suffer severe health effects, possibly for the rest of their lives. Returning to work after a chemical spill may not be an option, at least for a while. Workers’ compensation can help make up for the lost income and other costs.

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