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March 12, 2007
Pointers for Workplace Poison Prevention

Are your workers playing Russian roulette with poisons? Have you ever used a product containing chemicals without reading the health hazard information on the label or in the MSDS? According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, millions of Americans are exposed to potentially poisonous substances at work and at home. Over 500,000 of those people end up in the hospital emergency room every year, usually as a result of their own or a family member's carelessness. Some of the injured could be your employees (or members of their family) if they aren't aware of the risks and the precautions required to prevent poisoning. And what better time to conduct poison prevention training than the week of March 18--National Poison Prevention Week?

Focus on these training points for workplace poison prevention. Toxic chemicals are used as ingredients in many industrial products, and most workplaces contain at least some poisonous substances--probably yours included.

Why It Matters...
  • On average, poison centers handle one poison exposure every 14 seconds.
  • Most poisonings involve everyday household items such as cleaning supplies, medicines, cosmetics, and personal care items.
  • Over 60 percent of all poison fatalities occur in adults aged 20 to 49.
  • Ninety-two percent of exposures involve only one poisonous substance.

There are lots of ways to have accidents with poisons. For example, a careless worker might swallow poison in contaminated food or beverages if he or she keeps or consumes these in work areas in which hazardous chemicals are present. An employee might forget about chemicals on his or her hands, rub the nose, or put a contaminated hand over the mouth when coughing or sneezing. Poison can also get into an employee's body through inhalation of toxic vapors, or it can be absorbed through the skin. To prevent poisoning on the job, teach employees to:

  • Read labels and MSDSs for information about chemical hazards before working with any substance.
  • Talk to a supervisor about anything they don't clearly understand about a chemical's hazards or the necessary precautions.
  • Always wear assigned PPE and make sure it is in good condition so that it protects against toxic chemicals.
  • Follow required work procedures when handling, using, or storing chemicals.
  • Be careful when removing contaminated work clothes and PPE--and remove gloves last by peeling them off, touching only the inside of the glove as its rolled down.
  • Wash carefully after handling toxic chemicals--and always before going home and before eating, drinking, smoking, using the toilet, or applying cosmetics.

Review this safety checklist to help prevent at-home poisonings. The most common sites of accidental poisoning in the home are the kitchen, the bathroom, the garage, and the workshop. This checklist from the Consumer Product Safety Commission can help your employees poison proof their homes:

  • Are potentially harmful substances in the kitchen, such as cleaning products, furniture polishes, and drain cleaners, kept in their original containers?
  • Are they stored away from food?
  • Are they put up high and out of reach of children or kept in locked cabinets?
  • Do you keep a close eye on young children when using cleaning solutions and other chemical products?
  • Do medicines and other potentially harmful products stored in the bathroom have child-resistant closures?
  • Do you always turn on the light when taking or giving medicines?
  • Have you thrown out all out-of-date prescriptions?
  • Are all medicines in their original containers with the original labels?
  • If your vitamin or mineral supplements contain iron, are they in child-resistant packaging? (Why? A few iron pills can kill a child.)
  • Do all harmful products in the garage or workshop, such as charcoal lighter, paint thinner, and antifreeze, have child-resistant caps? Are they stored in their original containers? Are they stored up high and out of reach of children or kept in locked cabinets?
  • Do you make sure that no poisons in the garage or workshop (or kitchen) are stored in drinking glasses or pop bottles?
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