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Imagine going to work one day and coming home with an illness that will be with you for the rest of your life.  Sound far-fetched?  We’ve seen this happen to workers across Massachusetts.  It can happen when you are exposed to chemicals at work that are part of your job, or chemicals that other people use or bring to your worksite.  Some of those chemicals can have health-changing effects- so it’s important to learn the facts and stay safe.

That’s where we can help. One of our jobs at the health department is to learn lessons from individual cases of worker injury and share information to help other workers to stay safe.  There are great materials from the CDC about how to be safe around pool chemicals and other chemicals in the workplace.  But what else can you do if you are exposed to (touch or breathe or eat) a chemical at home or at work?

Thankfully, we have a Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention that serves as an emergency hotline (1-800-222-1222) and resource for medical advice about exposures and poisonings from chemicals like the one described above.  This Poison Center receives nearly 40,000 calls each year in Massachusetts.

Since 2013 the Occupational Health Surveillance Program (OHSP) has been working with the Massachusetts Poison Center to learn more about how workers are being exposed to chemicals at work.  This has allowed us to understand how many of the poisonings, the leading cause of death due to injury in Massachusetts, are work-related, on which jobs these poisonings happen, which chemicals are involved, and what the major health effects are.

For example, in 2015 nearly one in three work-related poisoning calls were from lab workers.  Industrial and household cleaners accounted for one in five work-related poisonings. The two most common clinical effects were to the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system.

What else can you do to protect yourself?

 Use safer products.  There are safer alternatives available. Read product labels and safety data sheets for necessary precautions.

Memorize the Poison Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. You can also call that number to request free Poison Center hotline magnets or stickers to post wherever you need.

Use this National Poison Prevention Week as a kick-off point for knowing how to get information on chemicals that can harm you or those you care about.

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in the Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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