Every day throughout Illinois, and the rest of the country, workers in nearly every field and in a range of working environments are exposed to toxins, such as chemicals and gases, in the workplace. In some cases, this exposure can cause occupational injuries, ranging from an allergic reaction or pulmonary irritation to much more serious, long-term issues, like asbestosis or cancer. This makes it important for employees to know what they could be coming into contact with in their workplaces.
Common workplace toxins
These toxins can be in use themselves, or be present in other solutions and substances that are used for any number of purposes and processes by employees in many occupations. Additionally, toxins can be released as a result of, or in the course of, workers’ regular occupational activities. Some of the most common toxins that may be present in a workplace environment include the following:
- Chemicals or materials used in, and released from, construction and manufacturing processes, including asbestos, benzene, lead, manganese, formaldehyde, and silica dust.
- Solvents and chemicals used to repair and maintain motor vehicles and other types of equipment, such as antifreeze, gasoline, diesel fuel and oil.
- Cleaning supplies and pesticides, as well as nail and hair care products often contain chemicals that can be harmful.
- Some medical equipment and processes may use harmful chemicals, including the use of Beryllium in dental work and ethylene oxide in sterilization. There is also the potential for exposure to anesthetic gases, hazardous drugs and radiation in hospitals and other medical offices.
- Indoor air can contain illness-causing bacteria, molds, pollens and viruses.
While the risk for toxic exposure can be greater in some occupations than in others, employees in almost any field can be exposed to a toxin of some kind in the workplace.
How to find out about workplace toxins?
In fields or occupations where workers are handling or producing hazardous materials, their employers are, by law, required to provide them with Material Safety Data Sheets. These sheets contain information about the chemicals or other toxins that are present in the workplace. Workers in fields that are not specifically handling hazardous materials can check the labels on cleaning supplies and other solutions they are using. Most products have warning labels if they contain any hazardous chemicals. If there is a possibility of mold, there are test kits that can be purchased and used.
Employees’ rights after toxic exposure
Like employees who suffer other work-related injuries and illnesses in Illinois, those who develop conditions resultant from exposure to workplace toxins may also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. This includes coverage of medical expenses, disability payments and any costs for long-term care.