When people talk about exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace, they are often referring to respiratory risks. Inhaling a dangerous substance is certainly a scary possibility. But these conversations tend to overlook another substantial point of exposure: the skin.
Your skin serves many functions, and in many cases acts as a protective layer. Its ability to absorb certain substances, however, means exposure to toxic chemicals is a real danger.
Millions of workers are at risk
Chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin are present in workplaces across the country. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an estimated 13 million American workers are exposed to these hazardous substances while on the job.
When these chemicals come into contact with skin, it can cause serious issues. That includes dermatitis (a general irritation that might include itching, a rash or swelling), skin infections or injuries, skin cancers and more. These injuries can be the result of a one-time, acute exposure to a dangerous substance, or occur after long-term, repeated contact.
NIOSH says contact dermatitis is among the most common types of occupational illnesses.
The workplaces with the highest risk
Certain workers will be more exposed than others to these types of skin irritants. NIOSH provides some insight into the professions with the highest risk of acute or long-term exposure to chemicals that may be absorbed through the skin. These include:
- Food service
- Health care
- Printing and lithography
Everyone has the right to a working environment that doesn’t put them at serious risk of suffering harm. In addition, there are rules and regulations employers must follow in order to minimize these risks and prevent anyone from getting injured.
Too often, however, these standards are ignored. And it is the worker who pays the price.