Carcinogens In The Workplace
May 20, 2020
Despite their legal obligation to provide a workplace free from recognizable hazards, many employers still fail to implement effective programs that keep workers safe. Carcinogens (or substances known to cause cancers) in the workplace are extremely hazardous to person’s health, and sometimes they inflict fatal or permanently disabling medical complications. If an employer’s negligence results in an employee’s illness or injury, the worker can file a workers’ compensation claim – but all of this is preventable by taking the necessary steps and prioritizing workers’ safety and health.
Carcinogens Found on the Job
Asbestos is so dangerous because when a person inhales asbestos fibers it can lead to an array of health issues, including scarring of the lung tissue, loss of lung function, respiratory disabilities, lung and stomach cancers, and even death. Certain organizations like the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) publish studies on known and probable carcinogens. According to these agencies, the ten most common carcinogens found in workplaces are:
- Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals often found in building materials (such as fire-resistant insulation materials), textiles, and more
- Crystalline silica, which is present in soil, sand, and rock. Workers who handle crystalline silica (which is popular in the production of kitchen countertops) may inhale it as a dust while cutting or mining it
- Benzene is an organic chemical compound that is used to manufacture lubricants, detergents, dyes, drugs, certain types of rubbers, and pesticides. Benzene is also found in cigarette smoke and gasoline
- Wood dust, which can become problematic to a person’s health when wood particles become airborne (like when sanding or cutting materials) and a worker breathes them in
- Hexavalent chromium. Chromium is a naturally occurring mineral that becomes carcinogenic when it changes into its hexavalent form. Hexavalent chromium is typically present during industrial processes like stainless steel manufacturing and metal welding
- Nickel is a chemical element that is found in stainless steel, electrical contacts, spark plugs, batteries, and dental and surgical prostheses
- Formaldehyde, which is common in manufacturing wood products, resins, textiles, and plastics – and formaldehyde is also used as an embalming fluid by employees in the funeral industry
- Ionizing radiation and radioactive elements, which X-rays and a variety of nuclear powers sources emit
- Cadmium is a chemical element that is used in the production of pigments and coatings for steel, aluminum, and electronics. Cadmium is also used to manufacture batteries
- Lead is usually found in pipe solder, paints, and pipes, but it can also be found in other items
Ways Employers Can Protect Workers From Carcinogen Dangers
Limited exposure to known and probable carcinogens usually is not life threatening, but the same does not ring true for workers who are exposed to these hazards on a daily basis. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, some of the best ways to protect workers from the potentially deadly harms associated with carcinogens is to implement an OSHA-approved safety and health plan comparable to ones that limit asbestos risks. OSHA created numerous federal standards for protecting workers from asbestos, many of which include requiring employers to take precautionary measures like:
- Providing personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as body suits and NIOSH-approved respirators
- Assessing asbestos levels, marking off areas, and clearly posting hazard signs
- Employing engineering controls like the installation of ventilation systems with HEPA (or high efficiency particulate arrestance) filters, and:
- Prohibiting the disturbance (e.g. shoveling, sweeping, or other forms of dry clean-up of debris and dust) of asbestos sources
Employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace, so they need to familiarize themselves with OSHA’s asbestos standards to protect workers from risks associated with known and probable carcinogens. There are many other steps that they can take to effectively guard workers from these hazards, such as providing every worker with hazard awareness training before they perform any carcinogen or asbestos-related operation.
If you are a worker who became ill as a result of your employer’s negligence or failure to provide a safe workplace, someone at our firm can help. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured during the course of their employment. To learn more about how to file a workers’ compensation claim, please contact a representative at our firm who can answer your questions.
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