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How do you reduce exposure to workplace toxins?

Toxic substances in the workplace can be a real safety hazard. Even short-term exposure to some chemicals can leave a worker with burns, breathing problems, skin rashes and more.

A proactive approach toward limiting exposure is your best defense. Here's what you can do:

1. Insist that your employer provide you with information about the composition and toxicity of any chemicals you use at work. You're entitled by law to this information.

2. Make sure that you are provided with appropriate personal safety gear, like gloves and masks. Don't start a job without them.

3. Examine the ventilation where you're using the chemicals and make sure that it is sufficient for your needs. If possible, do any mixing or other activities that generate extra fumes in an area that's set apart from where you have to actually work with the chemicals. That reduces your overall exposure.

4. Ask your employer to consider less toxic chemicals if any are available that will accomplish the same task. There are new items on the market all the time, so if your employer hasn't looked into the issue in a while, it could be time to try again.

5. Look into isolation techniques that will help keep toxins away from workers. Proper storage is important -- all toxic substances should be kept under lock and key and access should be only granted when there's a need. That reduces the chances of an accidental spill and widespread chemical exposure. Preventive maintenance can also help prevent leaks and spills.

6. Ask management to provide regular education to workers about the dangers of hazardous chemicals. There should be clear procedures in place about how to respond to accidental skin or eye contact with anything toxic or caustic, including first aid.

If you suspect that the exposure to toxic substances at work is affecting your health, let your doctor know exactly what you've been exposed to and where -- that could be important not only to your treatment but to your future if you need to ask for compensation due to illness.

Source: FindLaw, "Toxic Exposure in the Workplace," accessed April 12, 2018

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