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Workplace safety is more than an add-on for employees looking for an ideal job. It is a must-have, considering you spend a major part of your day at your workplace. For employers, it is a legal and ethical responsibility they must follow to stay compliant with industry-specific guidelines. However, the ground reality is different because risks abound in most workplaces.
Besides the risks of falls, machinery mishaps, fire, and electrocution, many workers face the threat of toxins. According to OSHA statistics, chemical exposures at workplaces lead to nearly 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths in the US annually. Globally, more than 1 billion workers bear the brunt of exposure to hazardous substances, including fumes, vapors, pollutants, and dust every year.
Considering these numbers, it becomes necessary to be more mindful of the toxic threat at your workplace and build your defenses against it. We will highlight a few ways for employees to safeguard their health from workplace toxin risks.
Historical studies show that truck transportation, chemical manufacturing, food manufacturing, educational services, and utilities have the maximum incidence of injuries due to the unintentional release of chemicals. Construction and firefighting are other sectors where workers breathe in deadly toxins every day. Knowing your workplace-specific risks is the first step for building your defenses against them.
Consider the example of firefighters to understand the real threats of workplace toxin exposure. These professionals face more than heat, smoke, and fumes in the line of duty. TorHoerman Law notes that PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam have been linked to long-term effects like cancer diagnosis and other adverse health effects. That means the product they trust to extinguish fires can do more harm than good.
Over the years, many firefighters have filed lawsuits against manufacturers to claim compensation due to their failure to warn about toxic firefighting foam. The firefighter foam cash settlements depend on factors like the level of exposure, cancer diagnosis, cost of treatment, and other compensatory damages. While the compensation cannot restore firefighters’ health, it can definitely make life easier for them.
For any workplace with hazardous chemicals, there are certain safety protocols and practices to safeguard workers. OSHA’s Safety and Health guidelines necessitate the implementation of measures like limiting exposure and providing safety training to employees. Employers also need to set up industry-specific standards because it is their responsibility to ensure the well-being of employees.
For example, they need to provide personal protection equipment to workers to minimize exposure to hazardous chemicals. Additionally, they should label and isolate dangerous chemicals in separate storage areas where only people with the right training and authority can access them. Proper ventilation of these areas is also crucial. Workers should do their bit by adhering to these protocols and guidelines at all times.
Ensure that your employer provides proper training to employees for handling toxic chemicals. Be proactive about participating in training sessions because awareness about safe handling and precautions while using chemicals can be a savior.
Reporting anomalies is equally critical because it can save your workplace and co-workers from a disaster. Chemical leaks and spills are always possible, even in the safest workplaces with the best safety practices and protocols. Timely action can save lives in such situations because hazardous toxins can cause havoc in the smallest quantities.
Be vigilant about potential sources of toxins, such as chemical spills, gas leaks, damaged equipment, improper storage, and signs of mold. Report these issues to your supervisor promptly, no matter how insignificant they seem. Timely reporting can help resolve these issues before they pose severe health risks.
Do not hesitate to escalate concerns about potential toxin threats you may face in the long run. Advocate for change if you believe your workplace falls short of adequate safety measures because the smallest things can make a difference. For example, keep an eye on storage areas and PPEs to check if they require repair or replacement. Your input can go a long way to contribute to policy improvements and create a safer work environment.
As an employee facing workplace chemicals and toxins, you should go the extra mile to protect your health and well-being. Know where, when, and how you may get exposed to toxins, and have a plan in place for such events. Awareness, active participation, and a proactive approach can minimize your risks and prevent mishaps at the workplace.
Most importantly, it can help industries improve their safety standards and address the risks of toxins more effectively. Employers and employees should never get complacent about managing toxin risks because disaster may hit when one least expects it.
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