Exposure to chemical agents in the workplace is a reality for many professionals. What is not known is that these products can be brought into the home and contaminate the whole family.
A study conducted by two American teams, published in 2020 in the journal "Annals of Work Exposures and Health", demonstrates a fact that is known to hygienists and indoor air quality specialists and workplace air quality experts but ignored by the vast majority of both employers and employees.
It is the extent of contamination of homes by toxic substances brought from the workplace onto the clothing or footwear of professionals.
Who is affected by pollution at work?
To reassure oneself, it is often thought that this only concerns trades where products known to be particularly dangerous, such as pesticides, heavy metals or asbestos, are used. This is indeed the case, but most people handling these products, aware of the danger, apply strict procedures to avoid their exposure as much as possible and protect themselves with adapted equipment: glasses, masks, gloves, disposable clothing, charlots, showers after using the products, separation of street clothes and work clothes in the changing rooms.
Unfortunately, many professionals use chemicals on a daily basis and sometimes unknowingly expose themselves to substances that are hazardous to health such as solvents or powders. Wearing a gown alone does not protect clothing from contamination.
Painters, printers, surfactants, building caretakers, personnel in waste storage and recycling sites, electronics manufacturing, cleaning products, manufactured products (foams, wood treatment, plastics), firefighters and fire decontaminators, insurance adjusters, aircrew, chimney sweepers, farmers, refinery and oil industry employees, etc.
A list that is obviously not exhaustive but which gives an overview of the variety of occupations exposed to chemical substances, as all these activities are in contact with toxic products likely to pollute their clothing.
The fact remains that, despite precautions, these substances can still find their way into the home.
To be aware of the danger is to limit the risks?
It is the responsibility of the employer to implement a responsible policy for the protection of employees and to ensure that these measures are respected, otherwise the employer may be held criminally liable.
But it is also and can be primarily the responsibility of the worker to scrupulously apply these instructions. So, if a certain "laissez-faire" attitude prevails around the subject in the company, if protective instructions are taken lightly, if gloves or masks are not used because there is no time, because one is a "tough guy" or because one does not have any... It is not only one's health that is affected but also that of one's family.
Obviously, it is difficult to be vigilant against a danger that is not immediate and moreover invisible or odourless. Until one day...
For even if the quantities are small for many of these products over time and accumulation will result in chronic exposure that can affect the health of everyone, especially the youngest. This is the case for substances such as endocrine disrupters, which have no immediate effects but have medium and long-term effects.
Here is an example from the study: A person who worked in an electronics recycling company. Unknowingly, this person was exposed, without special protection, to lead pollution.
Since he was an adult, the work lasted only one year and the doses were very low, there were no detectable health effects.
Unfortunately, a few years later, the lead particles brought home were enough to poison his children, who developed behavioural, developmental and learning disorders typical of lead poisoning.
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