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October 28, 2011
How Hazardous Materials Enter Your Body

Do your employees know the different ways hazardous materials can get into their bodies? You can address this topic by presenting the basic information that follows.

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Physical States of Materials

One of the important things the SDS will tell you about a material is its physical state. In science, matter and, of course, materials may be found in four physical states:

  • Plasma;
  • A liquid;
  • A solid; or
  • A gas.

It is important to know what physical state a material is in because the physical state can affect the route of exposure. The route of exposure is how the chemical can enter and harm your body.

Materials can enter your body in several ways.

  • The most common route of exposure is inhalation, or breathing in vapors and gases. Inhalation is a big risk in the workplace because so many materials we use are in liquid state, and liquid materials can give off vapors that can be inhaled. We sometimes also use materials in a gaseous state. Vapors and gases can be colorless and odorless, so you might not even realize you are inhaling them unless you understand the properties of the particular material.
  • Another common route of exposure is absorption through contact with your skin or eyes. After a material is absorbed into the skin or gets into your eyes, it works its way into your bloodstream. From there it can get to different organs and tissues in your body and make you sick.
  • Swallowing, or ingestion. Even though you may not intentionally swallow chemicals, they can be transferred onto food if your hands are contaminated, and then swallowed accidentally.
  • And finally, direct penetration, such as when a material enters the body through an open cut or skin puncture.

In your daily job function, can you think of ways that materials might enter your body through skin contact, inhalation, ingestion, or penetration?

Symptoms of Overexposure

In many cases, over exposure to a material will produce immediate symptoms that you can recognize. Common symptoms of overexposure include:

  • Skin or eye irritation;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Dizziness;
  • Headache; and
  • Nausea and vomiting.
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