Chemicals

Poison Prevention: In the Workplace and at Home

This week is Poison Prevention Week, which makes it the perfect occasion to hold a safety meeting on preventing poisoning on the job and at home.

Unprotected exposure to many substances found in the workplace and in the home can lead to poisoning. What’s more it isn’t all that hard to be exposed, since these poisons have three easy routes into the body:

  • Inhaling hazardous airborne vapors, dusts, fibers, etc., can cause health effects ranging from headaches, nausea, and respiratory problems to far more serious—sometimes even fatal—ailments.
  • Skin and eye contact can irritate or burn and may cause serious eye damage, recurring allergies, or a variety of other problems. Some poisons could also enter the bloodstream through the skin, which could lead to very serious health problems, such as organ damage.
  • Swallowing a poisonous substance could occur unintentionally if it gets on food, a coffee mug, or even hands. With some poisons, swallowing even a small amount could cause health effects.

Workplace Poison Prevention

To prevent workplace poisoning incidents, take steps such as:

  • Ventilating work areas where hazardous substances are used and stored   Enclosing hazardous operations to prevent dangerous vapors from escaping into the air employees breathe
  • Restricting entry to hazardous areas to authorized, trained, and properly equipped workers
  • Requiring the use of PPE specifically designed to protect you against the specific hazardous substances employees work with
  • Training employees to consult the MSDS and their supervisor for the proper PPE and work practices for handling hazardous substances

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Workplace Poisons and Workers’ Families

Workers exposed to poisons in the workplace can spread the poison to their families if they’re not careful.

Studies have uncovered examples of family members becoming ill when workers unknowingly brought hazardous substances home from work on their clothes, bodies, tools, and so forth.

One study found family members had contracted serious illnesses like asbestosis and chronic beryllium disease as a result of workers’ exposures on the job. Other studies have reported illnesses among workers’ family members resulting from exposure to such highly hazardous substances as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, pesticides, and other chemicals.

Hazardous materials can be transported home in several ways:

  • Dusts and particles on clothes can get into the air in the home as well as clinging to other surfaces.
  • If workers wash contaminated work clothes with other laundry, those items could become contaminated, too.
  • Hand tools and other equipment that have had contact with hazardous substances can contaminate whatever they touch—furniture, flooring, a car or truck.
  • Work-related materials such as bags, rags, or scrap lumber can also be contaminated and spread contamination.
  • If workers have not carefully decontaminated and removed hazardous substances from hands, hair, or other body parts, they could to spread the contamination to whatever—and whomever—they touch.

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Decontamination and Good Hygiene

The use of proper decontamination procedures can help prevent exposures to poisons and the risk of spreading contamination through the workplace or into the home.

PPE and work clothes must be removed in the proper sequence to prevent contamination. Train workers to:

  • Avoid touching contaminated clothing.
  • Wear gloves or hold the clothing from the inside when they unfasten contaminated snaps and zippers.
  • Remove items from the upper body first and work their way down.
  • Place clothing immediately and properly in containers for disposal or decontamination.

Good hygiene habits can also help protect employees and their families from contamination. For example, train employees to:

  • Keep food, coffee mugs, and other nonessential items out of the work area.
  • Wash thoroughly before eating, drinking, smoking, or using the toilet if they’ve been working where they could have been exposed to hazardous substances.
  • Wash thoroughly after any potential exposure to a hazardous substance.
  • Shower and change clothes when possible before leaving work.
  • Avoid placing PPE or work clothes in the same locker with street clothes.
  • Launder work clothes separately from other family laundry.
  • Avoid taking tools, scrap, packaging, and similar items home.

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