What to do if you’re exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace
There are many hazardous materials in almost every workplace. These chemicals and materials may be in the form of liquids, gases, solids or fumes. If you come into contact with one of these chemicals, they can cause skin irritation, lung damage, serious illness and even death. If you are exposed to certain chemicals for long periods, you could experience harmful, long-term effects, including cancer or permanent lung damage.
Here are a few of the most dangerous chemicals found in Georgia’s workplaces:
1. Acetic acid
Acetic acid is an organic compound with antibacterial properties. It is commonly used in the production of paint, inks and dyes as well as adhesives. If acetic acid is not used in a safe manner, it can damage the skin and eyes. It can also be damaging to internal organs if ingested or inhaled.
2. Chromic oxide
Chromic oxide may be used to polish the edges of knives, razes or optical devices. It may also be used as a paint pigment or fixative. Chromic oxide can irritate skin and eyes on contact.
3. Ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide is used to make antifreeze, polyester and may also be used as a solvent. It is also used as an insecticide in the agriculture industry and in healthcare facilities to sterilize medical equipment.
Ethylene oxide can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, drowsiness and burns. If it comes in contact with the skin, it could cause frostbite and may damage a person’s reproductive system depending on the exposure.
4. Hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid is commonly used in the production of batteries, in treating steel, in the process of making sugar and more. Hydrochloric acid is a corrosive chemical that can cause significant damage to the skin. If it is inhaled for extended periods, it can lead to hoarseness, coughing, chest pain and pulmonary edema.
5. Hydrogen chloride
Hydrogen chloride is used to clean, pickle and electroplate metals. It is frequently used in food processing plants as well as the manufacturing of dyes and fertilizer. Hydrogen chloride can irritate the skin, nose, eyes and throat. Skin exposure may also lead to frostbite. Extended exposure can cause significant damage to health if proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is not used.
6. Nitric acid
Nitric acid is commonly found in woodworking, metal finishing and sanitizing. It can also be used in dyes and in certain kinds of explosives. Nitric acid is extremely corrosive and can cause skin burns quickly. Inhaled mists can cause damage to the mucous membranes, pulmonary edema and death. Blindness can occur if it comes in contact with the eyes.
7. Sodium hydroxide
Sodium hydroxide is used to manufacture soaps, paper, dyes and cotton fabric. It’s also used in laundering. Like hydrogen chloride, sodium hydroxide can irritate the skin, nose, eyes and throat. Skin exposure may also lead to frostbite.
8. Sulfuric Acid
Mechanics, publishers and those who work in the coal, gas or oil industry are often exposed to sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is extremely corrosive and is destructive to the skin, eyes, teeth and lungs. Severe exposure can lead to death.
There’s a high risk of asbestos exposure if you work in the following industries: construction, maritime (ships), mining, oil refinery, papermaking, power plants, railroads, steel mills and more. Prolonged exposure can lead to mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Other dangerous chemicals found in the workplace
Although it may be expected that some industries must deal with dangerous chemicals more than others, any industry may have chemicals in the building that are surprisingly dangerous.
Common cleaning supplies such as bleach and ammonia can present a hazard if they are not stored or used properly.
Ion batteries and older electronics could present a chemical hazard as well. Paint and dye in old buildings may also contain substances that could be hazardous such as lead.
Many workplaces also store pesticides to keep pests at a minimum and those could also prove hazardous in the workplace.
What to do if you are exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace
If you are injured or become ill due to toxic chemical exposure in your workplace, the first steps you should take involve completing a workers’ compensation claim with your employer and seeking medical attention immediately to document your injury. Be sure to follow all instructions given to you by your doctor to be sure your injury heals properly.
It is possible that you could develop a serious occupational illness, such as cancer, due to repeated exposure to certain chemicals. In this case, you may need to talk to specialists in hazardous chemicals about your illness, providing them information about your occupation and the chemicals you may have been exposed to over time.
If you develop cancer or another work-related disease that you believe was caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals, it is imperative that you speak to an attorney immediately to determine what rights you may have.
Did you develop a respiratory illness or disease at work? You’re not alone! Learn how to get maximum workers’ comp benefits for a work-related respiratory illness or disease in Georgia.
When to consult a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
If you or a loved one have been injured by a workplace chemical, or if a loved one has died and you believe their illness was due to chemical exposure in the workplace, contact Gerber & Holder Law today to learn what rights you may have. You can arrange for a no-obligation consultation where we will review your case and determine what your next steps should be.
You could be eligible for compensation for lost wages, loss of consortium and medical expenses resulting from your occupational illness or work-related injury. Fill out our online form today or give us a call to arrange your appointment.