Most don’t give workspace safety a second thought, and many employees face silent and unseen risks. About eleven American workers die on the job every day.
In 2007 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 53,445 fatal illnesses could be attributed to workplace exposures.
“The saddest part is that each death is preventable,” says John A. Dony, the director of the Campbell Institute and also of Environmental, Health, Safety & Sustainability at the National Safety Council. “Safety should never be considered a cost of doing business.”
But for workers who deal with potentially harmful chemicals during the work day, staying safe isn’t always easy. “Most workers, and most small and medium-sized employers, don’t really understand the potential dangers they work with,” explains Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). “That’s why we have requirements that manufacturers and suppliers of chemicals provide workers and employers with information they can use to protect themselves.”
While toxic levels of exposure to chemicals can result in a long list of symptoms, ranging from dizziness to cardiovascular failure, blindness or even death, Michaels points out that exposure to airborne chemicals is one of the hardest to control.
“We’re very concerned about respiratory exposure,” he says. “We have rules about that, but airborne exposure is one of the major risks of exposure.”