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Preventing Workplace Accidents Involving Toxic Substances

wearing suit and mask working with poisonIndustrial accidents often involve exposure to toxic chemicals, like lead, mercury or benzene. These and other substances can cause a variety of severe injuries and medical conditions, from skin problems to cancers and possibly heart failure and death.

Fortunately, there are many practical steps employers and workers can take to avoid accidents with these substances. These steps cover handling these chemicals, using protective equipment and dealing with spills, among other things.

Our knowledgeable Bakersfield workers’ compensation attorneys at Berry, Smith & Bartell are committed to helping victims of toxic chemical accidents obtain the workers' compensation benefits they deserve. We can discuss your legal rights and ability to file a workers’ compensation claim in a free legal consultation.

Basics of Safety Around Toxic Substances

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the fundamental way to protect workers from toxic substances is to control the exposure. OSHA has a hierarchy of controls to reduce employee exposure to toxic chemicals. OSHA guidelines require that employers provide respiratory protection to workers when controls are not in place.

OSHA has a pyramid diagram of the effectiveness of different controls, with the most effective controls at the top of the pyramid and the least effective at the bottom. Here are the controls in order from most to least effective:

  • Elimination or substitution – When possible, OSHA recommends substituting the dangerous substance with a safer alternative or eliminating its use altogether.
  • Engineering controls – Engineering controls involve making physical changes to the workplace in order to decrease the rate of exposure, such as enclosing the process, using wet methods to reduce dusts that may form during the process, using fume hoods or changing the process to minimize workers’ contact with hazardous substances.
  • Administrative and work practice controls – These changes involve rotating job assignments or adjusting work schedules to minimize exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • Personal protective equipment – If other options are not feasible, workers should use personal protective equipment, including respiratory protection, eye protection, gloves and chemical protective clothing.

Safety Measures for Specific Substances

There are specific safety measures that employers and employees should use for different chemicals.


Employers should conduct worker-exposure calculations to determine the amount of benzene workers are being exposed to. Controls when working around benzene include using an enclosure for the process and ventilation exhaustion. Workers should wear respirators and other personal protective equipment.

Workers without personal protective equipment should not be around spills or leaks of benzene. In these areas, workers should remove all ignition sources, ventilate the area of the spill or leak, absorb the spill or leak with paper towels or sand, and vacuum the area.


Employers should implement controls to reduce exposure, including using general dilution ventilation, process enclosure, local exhaust ventilation and meticulous housekeeping. Employees must wear face shields and protective clothing that prevents direct skin contact with mercury. In the event of a mercury spill, workers should ventilate the area of the spill and use mercury vapor depressants or special vacuum cleaners to collect the spilled material.


Employers should have a medical surveillance program if their employees work with lead to prevent occupational injury or disease. This program should educate workers and their employers about hazards, detecting health problems from lead exposure and referring workers for treatment immediately.

If there is a lead spill, workers should remove all ignition sources, ventilate the area of the spill or leak, absorb the spill or leak with paper towels or sand, and vacuum the area. If the lead is in solid form, it can be collected and placed in a container.

If a worker is exposed to lead, he or she needs to be immediately removed from the situation. If lead got into the worker's eyes, they need to be flushed with a lot of water for 15 minutes. If lead gets on the skin, the area needs to be thoroughly washed with soap and water.

Chromium Metal

Workers should use respirators when working around this toxic chemical if practice controls are not technically feasible or if they have failed. Respirators can also be used when workers are in enclosed areas with chromium or in an emergency.


If a worker has skin contact with this dangerous chemical, he or she should promptly wash the area with soap. Workers should also wash their hands after working with this chemical before eating or smoking. Workers should wear protective clothing, including gloves and face shields.

Workers should not allow toluene to get into confined spaces, such as sewers, because the substance could cause an explosion.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer for Legal Assistance

Working around hazardous chemicals can be dangerous and lead to serious injuries or illnesses. If you were harmed by a dangerous chemical at work, the knowledgeable team at Berry, Smith & Bartell can help. We assist workers with all aspects of their claim and are only paid for our services if your claim is approved.

Schedule your no-obligation, free legal consultation right away to learn how we may be able to assist you.

For a free case evaluation with Berry, Smith & Bartell, a Professional Law Corporation call 1-800-848-6288 today!

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