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Workplace chemical skin exposure issues

While Minnesota businesses and employees are aware of the potential problems exposure to chemicals in the workplace may cause, much of the safety focus has been on preventing inhalation of the chemicals. Almost equally important for workers is the protection against skin contact, as systemic toxicity, occupationally-related diseases, neurological disorders and other problems may result.

Skin exposures at work occur frequently, but they have not been studied to the same extent as other types of workplace injuries and diseases. However, many workers across various industries may have contact-related issues due to exposure either in a single instance or over time. Toxic chemical skin exposure can occur from contact with surfaces that have been contaminated by the chemical, contact with the chemical itself, immersion in the chemical, splashes of the chemical or through the use of aerosols.

The effect of the exposure can range from irritant or allergic contact dermatitis reactions or to the development of more serious problems, including skin cancers, neurological disorders and other occupational diseases. Affected workers can come from a broad range of industries, including cosmetologists, food service workers, sanitation workers, painters, agricultural workers, construction workers, mechanics, health care workers and lithographers in addition to those working in the chemical industry. The degree of problems may depend on the absorption of the substance through the skin layers. Problems may be more severe if the skin is already damaged, the chemical is especially concentrated or toxic or the exposure is one of a prolonged duration.

People may not think of such professions as cosmetology or sanitation, for example, as being especially dangerous. If a person's job requires constant exposure with harsh chemicals, however, even a seemingly benign job may in fact be a hazardous occupation. Those who have been effected by this type of exposure may wish to discuss their situation with a workers' compensation attorney.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skin Exposures & Effects", December 29, 2014

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