The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns of the hazards of exposure to chemicals in the workplace. The federal agency estimates that 9.8 million workers may face such exposure in the United States. There are a wide variety of potential chemical injuries, including those from exposure to solvents, asbestos, latex rubber and gasoline.
Hundreds of Solvents
Benzene, toluene, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloride are just some of the solvents workers may encounter as they perform their duties. Over the years, the number of solvents have proliferated. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says the number of solvents dramatically increased from about a dozen in the early 1900s to over 350 by 1981.
Serious Health Concerns
There are many potential health hazards for workers inappropriately exposed to solvents. The dangers include, but are not limited to:
- Neurological and brain damage
- Reproductive harm
- Damage to kidneys and/or the liver
- Respiratory problems
- Chemical burns
- Skin disorders like dermatitis
Some cancers of the blood like leukemia have been linked to long-term solvent exposure.
Acute vs. Chronic Exposure
Solvents can harm workers through the inhalation of fumes, absorption through the skin or the swallowing of even minute quantities of highly toxic substances.
Workers exposed to solvents need to be aware of their acute as well as chronic toxicity. That is, a worker might suffer an injury when inhaling concentrated fumes. Or, neurological damage may occur over time as a solvent is repeatedly absorbed through the skin.
Unhealthful exposure to solvents is not limited to factory and manufacturing environments. For example, improper ventilation may expose office workers to the adverse impact of cleaning solvents.
Safety Rules and Regulations
Due in part to the proliferation in the number of solvents, government standards regarding acceptable exposure levels do not always exist. Although OSHA has set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for dozens of solvents, leaving others unaddressed. The complexity of solvent regulation is illustrated by OSHA’s Table Z-1, which sets occupational exposure limits (OELs), regulatory limits and recommended limits for a long list of solvents. Note the different levels for each chemical.
To limit the adverse effects of these chemicals, OSHA has developed rules and regulations that require the use proper equipment, including respirators, eye protection, gloves and chemical protective equipment to limit exposure. Employers are also required to inform employees of the risks of solvents. However, in some instances, these regulations are not followed by employers and employees suffer undue exposure to hazardous substances. Sometimes, protective gear is inadequate.
Reporting Toxic Chemical Exposure
When a chemical injury happens, it is important to report it right away and to seek medical care as appropriate. Be sure to do the following:
- Immediately report the incident to your supervisor
- Describe how the toxic chemical exposure happened
- Get the names of any witnesses
- Seek medical care if needed
- Tell the health care professional about the chemical exposure
It is also important to file a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim in a timely manner. Injuries that occur on the job are covered by workers’ comp laws whether the employer is at fault or not.
However, sometimes an employee is injured because of a negligent act by a party other than his/her employer. When this happens, it is sometimes possible to seek compensation under the state’s personal injury laws as well.
If you or a family member has been exposed to solvents or other dangerous chemicals in the workplace, please reach out to us for a complimentary evaluation. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive the full benefits to which they are entitled under Minnesota’s laws. To ask your questions or to schedule a visit, please contact us on 507-779-7529.