Many chemicals commonly handled in both workplaces and homes may have damaging effects on human health according to a government report

Last Updated on November 18, 2017 by Katie Sisel Distributor

Many chemicals commonly handled in both workplaces and homes may have deleterious effects on human health. These health effects can be either short or long latency effects.

Long latency health effects are those where there is a long interval, usually years to decades, between the exposure and the consequent health outcome.

Shorter latency effects are more immediate results of the exposure in question. Short latency effects include poisoning, burns to skin or eyes as well as irritation and allergic reactions to the skin, eyes or other mucus membranes.

Longer latency effects can include cancers, reproductive and cumulative neurotoxic effects.

Like most toxicological effects, the health effects of dermal chemical exposure are influenced by the intensity of exposure (dosage or concentration of the exposure), and the frequency and duration of exposure (how often the individual was exposed and for how long), in addition to the toxicological nature of the chemical substance in question (Benke et al. 1997).

Whilst we acknowledge the range and importance of these multiple health effects, the questions asked of the NHEWS survey participants were developed with the intention of collecting information about dermal (skin-related) health effects of exposure to chemicals (ASCC 2008).

The worker is seldom knowledgeable about the chemicals that might have led or lead to the development of disease (Brooke et al. 2005).

Allergic and irritant occupational contact dermatitis, associated with skin exposure to chemicals, is a significant and widespread problem in Australian workplaces.

Contact dermatitis is the most common occupational skin disease in westernised industrial countries (approximately 90-95% of all occupational skin disease) (Lushniak 1995). A recent analysis found occupational skin disease, which includes occupational contact dermatitis, was the second most common work-related problem presenting to general practitioners in Australia (Hendrie & Driscoll 2003).

Occupational contact dermatitis is a skin problem usually affecting the hands, although other sites may be affected or become involved later (Rietschel et al. 2002). There are two main types of contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by acute dermal exposure to strongly acidic or alkaline substances, or by the cumulative effect of ongoing dermal exposure to substances such as soap and water.

Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by sensitisers contacting the skin and eliciting a Type IV immune response (typically delayed, 4-24 hours following contact), and is detected by patch testing (Nixon & Frowen 2005).

Australian workers participating in the NHEWS study reported working with a wide range of chemicals and substances. Some of these chemicals are clearly hazardous, even when handled at very low concentrations and for short periods of time, while other chemical products such as soaps or detergents may only have deleterious health effects at high concentrations or with repeated or prolonged exposure.

The majority of respondents reported more general descriptions of the chemicals they worked with, including commercial product names and/or functionality. The most commonly reported chemical exposures were Detergents, reported by over a third of respondents.These were predominantly domestic or commercial cleaning agents.

Occupation of workers range from managers and professionals, technicians and associate professional workers, advanced trades, skilled clerical, community and personal service workers, sales or service workers and intermediate plant operator, transport workers, clerical, and administrative and service occupations.

Extracts taken from the following source: National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance Chemical exposure and the provision of chemical exposure control measures in Australian workplaces.

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