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March 06, 2006
Danger! Poison! Identify Hazards at Work and at Home

Keep alert to poisoning hazards on the job. Most workplaces contain toxic chemicals, and those substances can poison unprepared and unprotected employees in minutes or slowly over time. There are plenty of ways toxic chemicals can get into the body. For example, they can be inadvertently swallowed if a worker has chemicals on his hands when he wipes his mouth. Or if after working with a toxic chemical, an employee eats, drinks, or smokes without first washing his or her hands. Even more likely, chemicals can enter the body through the skin, or they can be inhaled. To prevent poisoning on the job, train employees to take these basic precautions:

  • Always wear assigned personal protective equipment and make sure it fits properly.
  • Keep food, coffee mugs, soda cans, and other personal items out of the work area.
  • When working around chemicals, wash thoroughly before eating, drinking, smoking, applying makeup, putting in contact lenses, or using the toilet.
  • Wash immediately after any potential exposure to a toxic chemical.
  • Change out of work clothing that may have been contaminated by toxic substances and shower or wash thoroughly before going home.
  • Launder potentially contaminated work clothes separately from family laundry.
  • Store street clothes separate from work clothes and away from any possible poisonous substances.

Prevent poisoning at home.

Why It Matters...
  • OSHA estimates that as many as 60,000 deaths and 860,000 occupational illnesses annually can be attributed to exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace.
  • Studies indicate that absorption of chemicals through the skin is the most common means of poisoning (more than twice as common as exposure through inhalation) and can occur without being noticed by an unprotected worker.
  • Every 7 minutes a child under the age of 5 ends up in the emergency room because of unintentional poisoning in the home.
  • Most home poisonings were caused by common household products, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Most poisonings happen in the home, and most incidents involve young children. Make sure your employees know how to poison-proof their homes by recommending the following simple but effective precautions:

  • Keep all household cleaning products, medicines, and chemical products in home workshops and garages out of reach of the children—preferably in locked cabinets above waist height.
  • Store cleaning products in their original, labeled containers, and keep them separate from food and beverages.
  • When working with products that contain hazardous ingredients, never let them out of your sight if children are in the house.
  • Follow instructions for use on the label (e.g., adequate ventilation), and use recommended protective equipment (e.g., gloves).
  • Be sure to close tamperproof tops on medicine containers carefully after use.
  • If you're taking medication at night, turn on the light to make sure you reach for the right bottle.
  • Keep the number for the Poison Control Center by your phone.
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