Bowen McKenzie Bowen LLC

Did you know it takes seconds for hazardous chemicals to do harm?

Workers in over 3 million workplaces nationwide, including in South Carolina, must deal with the dangers of hazardous chemicals every day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says it is the responsibility of employers to prevent their employees from suffering the consequences of exposure to the 650,000 chemicals that make up the variety of toxic products used in different industries. Some chemicals can cause severe injuries within as little as six seconds. In 2014, almost three million private industry employees suffered nonfatal illnesses or injuries caused by chemicals.

How can toxic chemicals affect your health?

The Centers for Disease Control say Occupational Skin Diseases (OSDs) are number two on the list of occupational diseases. Different forms of cancer and diseases affecting the kidneys, lungs, brain, heart, nerves and skin are next. Chemical exposure in workplaces can also cause damage to reproductive systems. Toxic chemicals can cause severe damage within the six to eight seconds it takes to penetrate the outer membrane of your eye, and severe skin damage can result after 10 to 15 seconds of exposure.

The two types of chemical agents that cause occupational skin disease are:

  • Primary irritants that cause direct chemical reactions on the skin.
  • Sensitizers that cause allergic reactions after repeated exposure.

What measures can your employer take to protect you from a similar fate?

  1. Create awareness and implement HAZMAT protocols: Employees must learn the risks posed by the chemicals with which they come into contact. If you know the potential danger, you can take extra care in the presence of toxic chemicals. However, the company must establish an efficient program for hazard communications that includes employee training, safety data sheets and chemical inventory on written plans.
  2. Provide appropriate personal protective equipment: Typical requirements include face shields and goggles, chemical gloves, protective footwear and clothing such as coveralls.
  3. Easily accessible eyewash stations: Wherever chemicals are used in your workplace environment, you must have easy access to an eyewash station. Considering it takes only seconds to cause damage, it is vital to maintain uncluttered areas around showers and eyewash stations. The chemical might blind you when you need the wash station, and you do not want a trip-and-fall injury as well. Such facilities must be within immediate proximity of the areas of exposure.
  4. Teach employees how to use of eyewash facilities: Would you know the correct way to use the eyewash station or the shower to limit the damage caused by the chemical? Do you know that by rubbing the affected area you can cause higher absorption of the contaminating agent into the eyes or skin? Your employer must ensure that workers know the proper procedures and the importance of shedding their clothes and rinsing their skin for approximately 15 minutes. Assisting fellow workers when necessary may save them from life-altering occupational skin diseases.

If you are one of the millions of employees who is suffering the consequences of exposure to hazardous chemicals, you should seek medical care immediately. Then, file a report with your employer as soon as possible, before pursuing financial relief. You can utilize the services of an experienced South Carolina workers' comp attorney who can navigate the complicated process for filling a claim for workers' compensation on your behalf.

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Greenville, SC 29605

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