Vol. 1, Issue 21 (Jun 03) Dangerous Substance

In response to the “European Week for Safety and Health” which begins on the 13th October 2003, we have dedicated this issue to “Dangerous Substances” in the workplace.

Dangerous substances can make you unwell if you breathe them in or they come into contact with your skin. The effects can range from mild impact to longer term impact and possibly cancers.

With the correct and suitable control and prevention measures most of the ill health effects can be reduced or eliminated.

The health issues are very well known, there is now a duty to manage asbestos in the workplace.

Skin disease.
Around 60,000 people are affected by conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, on the increase is skin cancer possibly linked to sun exposure without the use of sun screens.

There are up to 7,000 cases caused or made worse each year. From flour and grain, latex, some glues and resins, wood dust, solder / colophony. isocyanates. The “Health and Safety Commission” has set a target to reduce levels by 30% by 2010.

Handle with care.

Dangerous substances can be broken down into four groups:-

  • Chemicals used in manufacturing and their processing.
  • Propriety products used in work activities such as painting, gluing, dyeing and work-place cleaning.
  • Dust and fumes that occur during work such as welding, soldering and food preparation.
  • Natural substances- bacteria and blood.

They also can include substances that could cause harm from fire and explosions, from petrol, paints, solvents and liquefied petroleum gases.

How Substances Can Effect.

Lung damage from breathing: dusts, welding fumes, asbestos, fuel exhausts – diesel etc.

Effects on skin: allergic dermatitis i.e. epoxy resin, formaldehyde. Non allergic dermatitis: solvents, detergents and cutting oils.

Asthma from breathing: flour dusts, wood dusts.

Eye, nose and throat irritation: from substances in the air, diesel exhaust, acid vapours & mists and solvent vapours.

Effects within the body: brain nervous system from mercury, lead, pesticides, solvents, carbon monoxide gas.

Effects within the body: liver from vinyl chloride.

Effects within the body: bones from lead.

Effects within the body: blood and bone marrow from benzene.

Dermatitis and skin disease.

Occupational dermatitis is one of the most widespread causes of ill health, that affects workers in many industries.

Nationally, every year as estimated 60,000 people suffer from skin disease as a result of exposure at work.

Occupational dermatitis is caused by skin coming into contact (generally the exposure) with the substances at work.

Symptoms of the condition can be itching, scaling, blistering and redness of the skin.

The speed of the development depends on the strength of the substances and how long and how often it touches the skin. It can be extremely painful and can damage both work and social life.

Common causes are latex/rubber, soaps and cleaners, chromate and wet working.

Occupational Asthma.

The symptoms include chest tightness, wheezing & breathlessness. This is often due to inflamed airways, sufferers may experience runny nose, sneezing, itchy and inflamed red eyes.

Symptoms can occur immediately when exposed to substances or several hours after, when away from the place of exposure. If the condition improves at weekends and when on holiday and gets worse back at work, it is likely to be occupational asthma.

Systems should be in place to detect the symptoms. Symptoms should not be ignored – they will get worse the longer the exposure. It is a very debilitating condition and limits the sufferer to enjoy a normal life.

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