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8 dangerous substances you may be exposed to at work

Written by Ankin Law Office

Not all workplace injuries involve falls and collisions. Some of the damage done on the job is more gradual and subtle. Many jobs in Illinois involve hazardous levels of exposure to chemicals and other harmful substances. Every workers comp attorney in Chicago can name multiple situations in which dangerous substances in the workplace have caused disability or death. A recent case of severe safety violations in an Illinois school illustrates the hazards that workers may encounter every day. By learning more about eight common hazardous substances present in the workplace, employees can protect themselves from injury.

Exposure to multiple hazards in Illinois

In July 2014, construction workers performing a renovation of an Illinois school were found to be exposed to unacceptable levels of lead, asbestos and other hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed fines of more than $130,000 for the construction companies at fault in this case. Asbestos and lead are some of the most familiar hazardous substances on the job, but they are only two of the common dangers which American workers face.

1. Asbestos

Asbestos has become a notorious symbol of industrial negligence and death. More than 100,000 fatalities each year worldwide can be traced to asbestos exposure in factories, construction sites and other workplaces, according to the World Health Organization. The effects of asbestos include the following:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Inflammation of the digestive tract
  • Respiratory difficulties

Some workers may develop these symptoms after only a few months of intensive exposure to asbestos on the job.

2. Lead

Lead-based paints are a well known danger in homes and buildings. When employees work with lead on the job, they face severe danger from possible poisoning. Many people who work in manufacturing are at risk of lead poisoning. Symptoms of lead toxicity include cognitive disturbances and severe digestive disorders. Lead exposure can be fatal if it is allowed to continue.

3. Silica

A workers comp attorney in Chicago is aware that silica can be deadly to the respiratory system. Many employees in the mining and refining industries breathe large amounts of silica on the job, leading to increased levels of lung cancer, respiratory distress and compromised cardiovascular functioning. These tiny crystalline particles can cause death if exposure is continued for many years.

4. Pesticides

Farm workers and agricultural workers run the risk of exposure to deadly pesticides. These chemicals are formulated to kill noxious pests that attack crops. Unfortunately, they are also lethal to humans in sufficiently high concentrations. Many farm workers spend hours outdoors without protection while crop dusters scatter poison near them or directly over them. Modern pesticides are powerful enough to cause mutations leading to cancer. They can also cause birth defects if pregnant women are exposed to them.

5. Glues and solvents

Many factory workers are exposed to glues and solvents on the job. Artists and precision crafters may face dangerous levels of solvent exposure or glue exposure during their careers. Providing manicures and pedicures can also be a serious risk facture for solvent exposure. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nail salon professionals absorb twice as many toxic solvents as employees in comparable service jobs. Some solvents may cause brain damage or an increased risk of job-related cancer.

6. Hazardous dust

Dust is a common byproduct of many manufacturing processes. It can also be highly dangerous if it is not controlled properly. Dust from agricultural processing or refining can ignite without warning, leading to fatal explosions. Many materials, from solid substances such as paper and glass to moist media such as sewage and compost, can produce hazardous particulate matter that is inhaled by workers. Inhaling these particles may lead to severe illness. A workers comp attorney in Chicago knows from experience that metalworking and woodworking specialists are among the most vulnerable to dust-related health issues.

6. Biohazards

As pathogens continue to multiply across the planet, more workers are exposed to complex biohazards on the job. Workers in the health care sector are often required to deal with pathogens in the line of duty. Employees who work with biological waste disposal or pharmaceutical production may also come into contact with biohazards on a daily basis. These situations can cause severe illness or even death if workers do not take proper protective measures.

7. Radiation

Radiation is not a tangible substance in the same way that asbestos or lead is, but it can be a deadly risk on the job. Many employees in different fields are exposed to unacceptable levels of radiation in the workplace. X-ray technicians are at special risk, as are employees at nuclear power plants and other sources of high-intensity radiation. The dangers of radiation exposure are especially acute for pregnant women, who should avoid contact as strictly as possible. OSHA statistics show that radiation in many workplaces is insufficiently regulated and may pose a severe risk to workers. Symptoms of radiation poisoning can include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Reddening of skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe fatigue

If workers notice these symptoms after exposure to radiation on the job, they should seek a safe location immediately and report the hazards to their supervisor.

Learning about the rights of workers

Many jobs in Illinois expose workers to hazardous levels of carcinogens, pathogens and other dangerous substances. People who have found themselves in a dangerous situation at work should consider speaking with an attorney to learn more about their rights.