How do workplace chemicals enter the body?
Many workplace chemicals hurt you only after they get into your system – workplace chemicals could be breathed in if they are in the air, they could be swallowed with your food or drinks, or they could enter your body through your skin or eyes…
Worker’s compensation in SC covers exposure to toxic chemicals in most cases, but how can you avoid injury before you are exposed to chemicals?
In many workplaces, there will be chemicals of some sort, and working with them or around them may be part of your job description. Make sure that you know what chemicals are found in your workplace, where they are, and how to safely handle them.
Read the labels and the material safety data sheets for each type of chemical found in your workplace, and make sure that you are using the right protective gear to prevent those chemicals from entering your body.
In order to protect yourself and prevent workplace chemicals from entering your body, you first need to understand how workplace chemicals enter your body – the three main methods are breathing the chemicals, swallowing or ingesting the chemicals, or absorbing the chemicals through the skin or eyes.
Do Workplace Chemicals Enter the Body Through Breathing?
Breathing workplace chemicals is the most common method of entry into the body. How do the chemicals get into the air in the first place, and what happens after you breathe them in?
How do Workplace Chemicals Get into the Air?
Evaporation is the most common way that workplace chemicals get into the air you breathe – when a chemical (or a solution containing the chemical) evaporates, it forms vapors that mix with the air you are breathing, allowing the chemical to enter your body. Some chemicals, like organic solvents (toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, alcohols), evaporate quickly.
Gases – chemicals that are in gaseous, rather than solid or liquid form – can also be found in the workplace. Like the vapors caused by evaporation, gases can easily be breathed in along with the air that you breathe.
Mist is another way that workers breathe in workplace chemicals. When gases condense into liquid droplets, they float in the air and can be breathed in. Mists containing workplace chemicals can be formed when liquids containing workplace chemicals are splashed or atomized by processes like spray painting, cutting, or grinding.
Dust is made of tiny particles that float in the air. Dust from machine operations, grinding, or other abrasive actions can contain workplace chemicals that are harmful when you breathe them in.
Fumes are another form of tiny particles that can be breathed in through the air and often result from heated metals in activities like welding and cutting of metals.
Smoke is yet another way for tiny particles to become airborne and find their way into your body. Carbon particles, soot, and other particles that are formed while burning enter the air in the smoke and can then be breathed in.
What Happens After I Breathe Workplace Chemicals?
Once you breathe in a workplace chemical, it enters your lungs and is then distributed throughout your body through your bloodstream. Depending on the type and amount of workplace chemicals that you have breathed in, it could:
- Cause burn damage to your mouth, nose, throat, or lungs;
- Become lodged in your lungs or alveolar sacs, causing permanent damage, scarring, and interfering with the operation of your lungs;
- Be distributed throughout your body, causing damage to other organs like the kidneys.
In some cases, the only way to avoid breathing in harmful workplace chemicals is to use appropriate safety gear like masks or other breathing equipment that is designed to filter the particles or vapor before you breathe it in.
Do Workplace Chemicals Enter the Body Through the Skin and Eyes?
Another method for workplace chemicals to find their way into your body is through your skin or through your eyes – you should always use protective gear like safety goggles, gloves, or even full body suits when appropriate.
What Happens when Workplace Chemicals Enter the Body Through the Eyes?
Workplace chemicals enter the body through the eyes when liquid is splashed into the eyes or a worker touches or rubs their eye with a contaminated hand.
When a workplace chemical touches the eyes, it could cause burns to the eye. In some cases, it could result in permanent damage to the eye and even blindness.
Even when the eye itself is not damaged, the chemical could enter the bloodstream through the eye – the eyes are full of blood vessels that then carry the workplace chemical to other parts of the body.
What Happens when Workplace Chemicals Enter the Body Through the Skin?
Chemicals in liquid form can sometimes pass through the skin and enter your bloodstream. Other chemicals may burn the skin when they come into contact with it – causing burn damage and allowing chemicals or other harmful materials to pass through the skin into the bloodstream.
Chemicals can also enter the body through the skin when there are cuts or abrasions that allow the chemicals to pass through the skin’s barrier.
Problems caused by skin contact with different types of workplace chemicals may include:
- Skin dryness and cracking;
- Ulcerations; and
- Skin flaking.
Workplace chemicals can also enter the body through puncture wounds – injuries from machinery or accidental injection by needles in a hospital or medical setting can allow chemicals to enter the bloodstream. Once a chemical is in the bloodstream, it can then cause damage to other body organs.
Swallowing of Workplace Chemicals
Although it is not as common, workplace chemicals can enter the body through ingestion – eating or drinking food. Food or drinks can be contaminated by workplace chemicals through:
- Not washing your hands before breaks;
- Leaving food or drinks uncovered in the workplace;
- Contact with gloves or clothes;
- Nail biting; and
Ingestion of workplace chemicals can cause burns to the mouth, esophagus, or stomach lining, or they can be introduced to the bloodstream through the digestive system, where they can affect other body organs.
If you were injured on the job by exposure to workplace chemicals, your Myrtle Beach workers’ compensation attorney on the Axelrod team will help you to prepare and file your workers’ compensation claim in SC, file any appeals that are necessary, and fight to ensure that you are fully compensated through workers’ compensation.