Preventing Injury and Illness to Service Workers in Tourism-Related Jobs – Part III: Toxic Chemical Exposure

Service workers are at risk for injury and illness every day, whether they work as housekeeper, landscaper, kitchen staff or nurse, to name a few.   The best way to prevent injuries and illness is to go through a hazard analysis of your workplace which includes the building and the grounds outside of the property wherever employees may work.  This four part blogs series will cover the major areas that these types of service workers are at risk for and ways they can be prevented.

Since 1983 OSHA has said all employees with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces have to have a Hazard Communication Program.  These programs consist of material safety data sheets (MSDS), clear labels on all chemical containers, and training to show employees how to avoid exposure.  Material safety data sheets need to be provided for each chemical that is used in the workplace.  These sheets provide personnel with procedures for handling or working with the specific chemical in a safe manner.  The types of information listed on a MSDS include physical data like boiling point and melting point, toxicity, reactivity, health effects, first aid, PPE, storage and disposal, and spill handling procedures.  These material safety data sheets need to be easily accessible to all employees, especially cleaning staff and maintenance staff.  Cleaning staff are at a high risk of toxic chemical exposure because they work with chemicals like bleach, ammonia, and other heavy duty cleaning chemicals.  If these chemicals are accidently combined or the necessary mixture is incorrect, the result can be deadly.  At times cleaning staff employees can work in poorly ventilated spaces and the fumes can have a greater effect on them.  Maintenance staff employees, like landscapers, are at a high risk because of the insecticides and pesticides they are often in contact with.  According to and The American Heritage® Science Dictionary the suffix “cide” means “a killer of”.  Chemicals that end in “cide” are specifically designed to kill and if not used carefully can kill the user.

The three main ways that chemicals can enter the body are; inhalation, contact with the skin, and through the digestive system by swallowing or eating contaminated food.  Some chemicals can be inhaled if the chemical is a spray, such as Windex or a mist from a Febreze canister, and the chemical gets inhaled as it is being sprayed or before it has a chance to dissipate.  Chemicals can also give off strong fumes by themselves or when two or more chemicals are combined incorrectly or not supposed to be combined at all, like bleach and ammonia which creates a deadly gas called mustard gas.  Poorly ventilated workspaces like a maintenance workers tool shed, or the cleaning gear locker for the cleaning staff present an even greater risk for inhalation of chemicals.  It is always necessary to wear the proper respiratory protection to prevent inhalation of chemicals.  Contact with the skin can result in burns and rashes, and can occur when there is a spill.  The best way the prevent contact with the skin is to wear the proper hand protection and the necessary body protection, such as a Tyvek suit.  Chemicals can be digested through eating contaminated food or directly swallowing the chemical.  If a landscaper is working through lunch and is mixing chemicals and eating at the same time the chemical can get on their hands or splash onto the food.  The worker may not be paying attention when this happens and take a bite out of their sandwich and unknowingly digest.  To prevent this risk, never eat around or bring food into the presence of chemicals, and always wash your hands after working with chemicals.  There is also a minor route of entry through the eyes.  This can occur due to a chemical spill, which may get on your hands and then rubbed in your eye, or the chemical may splash and make contact with your eye.  The proper face and eye protection needs to be worn to prevent this from happening.

There are two types of exposure; acute exposure and chronic exposure.  Acute exposure is when exposure happens one or a few times, and effects can happen immediately or be delayed.  Chronic exposure is repeated exposure over months and years, and the effects from chronic exposure are always delayed.  The factors that determine how hazardous the exposure is, are the toxicity, route of exposure, dose exposed to, duration of exposure, interaction with the chemical, and your sensitivity to the chemical.  If you are ever exposed to a chemical it is necessary to refer to the previously mentioned MSDS to get first aid procedures.

If you are looking for hazardous and toxic materials training contact United Alliance Services Corporation at (877) 399-1698 or visit our website.