Occupational Exposure to Harmful Chemicals: Are You at Risk?

Posted by Allison Sullivan on May 3, 2017 1:55:20 PM

Occupational Exposure to Harmful ChemicalsThe simple truth is that most of us spend half or even most of our waking hours in the workplace. No matter what your occupation, potential exposure to harmful chemicals could leave you sickened, unable to work, and fighting to gain access to the Workers' Compensation you are due.

Today, we'll take a look through occupational exposure to harmful chemicals and what steps to take to protect yourself in the event of illness or injury.

What Sorts of Chemicals Can Cause Harm?

Many South Carolina workers assume that simply choosing a career path that doesn't involve routine work with potentially dangerous chemicals will protect them from exposure. Unfortunately, that's not true.

Despite clear regulations put forth by OSHA and DHEC in South Carolina, workers continue to find themselves falling sick due to chemicals in the workplace that they were totally unaware of. These chemicals include:

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Asbestos (especially in older buildings)
  • Paints and solvents
  • Manganese
  • ... and more.

Something as simple as being forced to work in a room that has been just recently painted and has yet to dry could cause serious illness in some employees. Chemicals are present in just about every workplace in America, and continued development of new and stronger cleaning chemicals, solvents, and other agents has resulted in higher potentiality for the average worker to face exposure to toxic chemicals.

What Sorts of Injuries Are Caused By Workplace Chemical Exposure?

Sometimes your injuries will show immediately, as in the case of chemicals burns, but sometimes symptoms only appear hours, days, months, or even potentially years after the initial contact. 

In the case of many of the harmful chemicals listed above, the initial exposure isn't what caused the injury or illness, but instead the daily exposures to small amounts of the chemical over time.  

Injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to harmful chemicals in the workplace include:

  • Persistent respiratory illnesses
  • Certain cancers (as in the case of asbestos particularly)
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Eye injuries
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Eye injuries or even blindness

Don't wait to seek legal representation if you believe your injury or illness was caused by chemical exposure in the workplace. Keep copies of any workplace injury forms, medical documentation, and communications regarding your exposure that you have been given. 

These will be important when it comes to proving your case during litigation, especially if your initial Workers' Compensation claim was denied.

How Can You Know You've Been Exposed?

Have you ever been stuck in a very small, not-well-ventilated room with bleach or another high-strength cleaner or walked into a newly-painted room whose windows were closed? Have you ever tried to clean using ammonia or undiluted bleach and forgotten to wear gloves right away?

You may recall feeling dizzy, nauseous, or even have gotten a headache as a result. Exposure to ammonia and bleach may have left your hands sensitive, itching, or painfully burned. This is chemical exposure. If you are exposed like this in the workplace, leave the area immediately and do not return until it is safe for you to breathe.

While exposures like those above are fairly obvious, often employees are unaware of harmful chemicals in the workplace until after they've become sickened. If you begin to show signs or symptoms of the previously listed illnesses and injuries, you may have been exposed to harmful chemicals without ever knowing it.

If you or a loved one was injured due to workplace chemical exposure and have been unable to work, Workers' Compensation benefits may be the difference between recovering in comfort and constant worry at the loss of income while you really need to be able to heal.

What Steps Can You Take to Prevent Exposure?

In some cases, there may be very little you can do — in certain mesothelioma cases, it was found that employers misled employees about the presence of asbestos within their workplace.

If the potential exposure is known, however, you may be able to take preventative steps:

  • Always wear protective gear when potentially handling harmful chemicals.
  • Do not allow any part of your skin to come in contact with the chemicals.
  • Wear a face mask or air filter and ensure that the room is well-ventilated and open.
  • Do not work in a newly-painted room for at least 24 hours after paint is dry. During this time, ensure windows in the room are open when possible or that a fan is running.
  • Do not allow bleach or other industrial-strength cleaners to touch your skin.
  • If you are asked to perform workplace tasks that would expose you to harmful chemicals, request protective gear.
  • If no protective gear is available, do not perform the task.
  • If your supervisor insists on you undertaking work that would expose you to harmful chemicals without protection, leave the room and contact your employer and a legal representative.

Exposed to Harmful Chemicals in the Workplace?

Don't wait to request your free consultation. At BNTD Law, we are strong advocates of South Carolina workers. Our Workers' Compensation team is dedicated to ensuring your individual rights are represented. To reach us by phone, give us a call at (803) 779-7599 — or just contact us online at any time.


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Topics: Worker's Compensation