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“Many of the most serious hazards are the Silent Killers – the ones we can’t see…. American workers use tens of thousands of chemicals every day. While many of these chemicals are known or suspected of being harmful, only a small number are regulated in the workplace.”

–  Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Poisonings can happen anywhere: at home, in the community, or at work.

In 2013, 25,886 calls were received at poison centers across the country for work-related exposures. In the same year, 137 US workers died from acute chemical poisonings, and an estimated 12,330 traumatic injuries resulted in missed days of work due to chemical exposures.

Workplace Poisonings Image 1 resizedDPH collaborates with the MA & RI Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention to collect information about local chemical exposures in the workplace. The regional poison center receives around seven work-related calls every week from MA callers, and in the past year the most common calls were for exposures to cleaning products, fumes, gases and vapors, and nonspecific chemicals. Most of these exposures were through inhalation, followed by contact with mouth and skin, and the major impacts to workers were eye and throat irritation, headaches, and chemical burns. A broad range of workers were harmfully exposed – from scientists and public safety officers to construction workers and custodians.

Know Your Rights

The fact that many who call the regional poison center simply report cleaning products and nonspecific chemicals shows that workers often don’t know what chemicals they are using. Yet, federal and state laws require employers to provide this information to workers.

Workplace hazards should not be accepted as part of the job. Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace. As a worker, you have rights! They include:

  • The right to know, understand, and be protected from hazardous chemicals at your job.
  • The right to file a confidential complaint with OSHA to have your workplace inspected, and to not be retaliated against by your employer for requesting an inspection or using any of your other rights under the OSH Act.

Workplace Poisonings Image 2 resized

Your employer must:

  • Select safe products, inform you about chemical hazards, and establish safe work practices.
  • Provide hazardous chemical training in a language that employees understand, and provide appropriate protective equipment.
  • Keep a current list of hazardous chemicals that are in the workplace, make Safety Data Sheets available to employees, and ensure that hazardous chemical containers are properly labeled.

Know Your Poison Center: 1-800-222-1222

Workplace Poisonings Image 3

ANYONE can call the poison center! The regional poison center offers free, private, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Protect yourself, your co-workers, and those you love:

  • Keep the hotline number on your home, cell, and work phones.
  • Display the number in visible areas at work, home, and in public spaces.
  • Inform co-workers, family, and friends about the poison center.
  • If you come in contact with anything that might be poison, call your poison center right away!

Written By:


Epidemiologist, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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