The Health Effects of Chemical Exposure in the Workplace

To mark day five of the European Week for Safety and Health at Work 2018, we're discussing the health effects of chemical exposure in the workplace.

Published October 26, 2022

1 minute read

To mark day five of the European Week for Safety and Health at Work 2018, we're discussing the health effects of chemical exposure in the workplace.

Chemical exposure in the workplace can cause various types of harm when adequate control measures aren’t implemented. As the European Week for Safety and Health at Work draws to a close, we’re raising awareness of the potential detrimental effects that hazardous chemicals can have on human health.

Contributing risk factors of chemical exposure

Chemical exposure in the workplace can pose many different health risks, which can cause both acute and chronic health effects. These risks can depend on several factors, including:

  • The type of chemical
  • The amount of chemical
  • The length of exposure
  • The route of entry into the body
  • The health of the worker

All these risk factors play a significant role in whether adverse health effects will occur from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Common effects of chemical exposure on human health

As mentioned, the effects of hazardous substances can vary considerably. Immediate health effects, which tend to result from minor chemical exposure, can include mild symptoms such as skin or eye irritation, blurred vision, headaches and nausea.
 
Chronic health effects typically result from repeated exposure to chemicals and can lead to serious, long-term effects, including occupational hearing loss, liver damage, bronchitis and cancer.
 
The most common health problems that can result from exposure to hazardous chemicals are:

  • Asthma – can occur through an allergy to substances
  • Cancer –  can develop long after exposure to substances
  • Dermatitis – as a result of direct skin contact to substances
  • Losing consciousness – due to toxic fumes
  • Viral infection – can be caused by bacteria

Chemical routes of entry

Chemicals can enter the body through four main entry routes; inhalation, skin or eye absorption, ingestion (swallowing or eating) and injection. However, the most common way for chemicals to enter the body in the workplace is through inhalation of the following:

  • Smoke
  • Gases
  • Vapours
  • Mists
  • Dusts
  • ​Fumes

Research suggests that nearly a quarter of workers are exposed to harmful chemicals in the air whilst at work. It is therefore essential that employers implement air quality monitoring in the workplace, to ensure that workplace exposure limits (WELs) for substances are not exceeded.

How to protect staff in the workplace

The effects of chemical exposure in the workplace can be lifechanging, no matter how minor. To ensure that you protect your workforce from developing health effects, and maintain a safe work environment, regular workplace monitoring should be implemented.


Author EcoOnline

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