Chemical Dangers in the Workplace
More than 30 years ago, a Congressional committee prepared a report titled “Chemical Dangers in the Workplace.” This report stated that “the threat posed to the health of workers by toxic substances … causes an estimated 100,000 deaths and 390,000 illnesses every year.” The report noted that “most of these tragedies result from exposure to toxic substances, especially chemicals, in the workplace.” The report concluded that “advances in the American standard of living have been achieved at great cost to one group — workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals as they do their jobs.”
Not much has changed in the last thirty years. Every day, new chemicals are used in new industrial processes. Most of these chemicals aren’t even tested before workers are exposed to them! You have a right to know what chemicals you are being exposed to and what their hazards are.
Under the federal Hazard Communication Standard, every chemical company that supplies a chemical product to your employer must provide the employer with a Material Safety Data Sheet (“MSDS”) for it. The MSDS must identify all the hazardous ingredients in the product (except those that are trade secrets). The MSDS contains information regarding fire and explosion hazards, health hazards, reactivity, procedures for spills and leaks, respiratory protection and ventilation, and other information. By law, your employer must make available to you Material Safety Data Sheets for all chemicals that you encounter in your work environment.
The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Proposition 65) requires any company that exposes people to cancer-causing chemicals or reproductive toxins to give advance warning of these hazards. California courts have held that this warning must be given directly to persons exposed. Since all employees are persons, California courts have held that these warnings must be given directly to all employees! If you want to know whether a chemical you are exposed to is a carcinogen or reproductive toxin, you can check the list published by the Governor at: http://www.oehha.org/prop65/prop65_list/Newlist.html.
Be careful! Work can be dangerous to your health!