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Common Workplace Hazards

Common Workplace Hazards
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Toxic Substances

In many jobs, workers are exposed to toxic substances, which may cause injury or illness even when handled correctly and used appropriately. If you have been harmed on the job by exposure to asbestos, benzene or other chemicals and fumes, you are entitled to collect workers' compensation benefits and to receive treatment for your injuries.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was once widely used in construction and insulation because it is fire retardant and doesn't conduct heat very well. Well into the 20th century, asbestos was commonly used in the construction of construct factories, offices, schools and shipyards and homes, and it was a popular insulation material for pipes. However, asbestos has been proven to cause serious health problems, including mesothelioma, one of the most deadly forms of cancer, and other lung diseases. The EPA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission have banned many asbestos problems, and some manufacturers have voluntarily limited their use of asbestos. But workers in some industries remain at risk because they work directly with asbestos. In addition, the effects of asbestos are cumulative, and illness may not occur until many years after exposure. Asbestos exposure has been directly linked to four diseases: Pleural Plaque/Thickening - The lining of the lungs become scarred, causing breathing difficulties.

Asbestosis - Caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, asbestosis is a non-cancerous fibrous hardening and scarring of the functional tissues of the lungs. Inhaling asbestos fibers irritates the lungs and causes lung tissues to scar. Asbestosis is linked to lung impairment and heat disease.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing and a dry, crackling sound upon inhalation. In patients with asbestosis, it can be difficult for oxygen to get to the blood. Advanced chronic asbestosis has been thought to contribute to or cause cardiac failure.

Asbestosis is a progressive disease; it may be 15 to 30 years before symptoms appear. . People who are diagnosed with asbestosis generally have been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a prolonged period of time. There is no effective treatment for the disease.

Lung Cancer - Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in people who have been exposed to asbestos for prolonged periods. Generally, people who have been exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer in the lower lobes of the lungs.

As with asbestosis, the disease may take 20 to 30 years to develop. Smokers are at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, and the risk of developing lung cancer also increases with the number of asbestos fibers inhaled.

Lung cancer causes more deaths than any other disease caused by asbestos exposure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population.

Symptoms of lung cancer include difficulty breathing, coughing, hoarseness, persistent chest pains and anemia.

Mesothelioma - Unlike lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases, which are generally linked to prolonged exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma can affect people who have only low or intermittent levels of asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the thin tissue membranes lining the thoracic and abdominal cavities and surrounding internal organs. Almost all cases can be traced to asbestos exposure.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, pain in the lower back or side of the chest, coughing and weight loss. This is the most dangerous of the asbestos-related diseases, because it can affect people who have only low levels of exposure to asbestos.

Benzene - Benzene, a colorless liquid with a sweet odor, is a chemical that is used widely in the manufacture of plastics, resins, nylon, synthetic fibers, detergents, pesticides, lubricants, dyes and other chemicals. By some estimates, as many as 300,000 people a year are exposed to benzene in the workplace.

Benzene is a known carcinogen in humans, and breathing very high levels of benzene can cause immediate death. In addition, inhaling high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. Ingesting large amounts of benzene can cause vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate and death.

Long-term exposure to benzene has been proven to cause anemia and cancer, particularly acute myelogenous leukemia or AML.

Chemicals and Fumes - Chemicals and fumes constitute a real workplace hazard. Depending on the toxin, exposure may lead to immediate symptoms or an illness may manifest later as the result of prolonged or repeated exposure to the toxic chemical. Exposure to certain chemicals can cause severe burns or allergic reactions resulting in serious injury and even death.

There are many sources of toxins in the workplace - mechanical equipment, chemicals and cleansers, construction products and the list goes on.

If you've been exposed to toxic fumes, you may experience immediate symptoms such as nausea, headaches and dizziness. Extended exposure to certain toxic chemicals has been linked to more serious ailments and diseases, such as cancer, respiratory conditions and blindness.

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