Jun 2017

Could Soap Cause Toxic Chemical Exposure At Work?

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyCareful reading of food labels to become aware of any processed sweets, preservatives or other chemicals has become second nature for many of us. However, few of us have been reading our soap labels. Maybe we should start.

As reported by Occupational Health & Safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to 40 percent of workers will suffer from some form of occupational dermatitis at some point, and it often can be traced back to industrial soap.

Although dermatitis, a temporary skin condition characterized by irritation, redness and itching, may not seem serious, it is known to account for a noteworthy number of workers’ compensation claims. As noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a single claim for workplace illness due to dermatitis can cost $3,500 in workers’ compensation claims, with an average length of disability of 24 days.

Industrial Soap as a Toxic Exposure risk

Soap is supposed to be one of the substances at work that keeps us safe. It helps prevent the spread of germs and disease, particularly for restaurant and food preparation workers. It can minimize the risk of infections within the health care industry, when handling garbage, after handling animals/ pets or after using the restroom/ handling personal hygiene.

However, it appears the soaps often used can be hazardous.

OHS reports industrial hand soap often contains a type of ingredient called petroleum distillates. These are produced from crude oil, and include certain minerals such as kerosene, and naphtha. These are made with oil refineries alongside heating oil, chemical feedstocks and fuel for motor vehicles.

Exposure to these chemicals in the short term may well cause irritation of the skin. However, over time, long-term exposure could put you at risk of dermatitis, which is characterized by cracking, dry and painful skin. It can take weeks to recover.

Carcinogens in Soap

Another possible risk exposure to carcinogens, which may contaminate petroleum distillates. These chemicals may seep through into the skin, and may result in someone suffering potentially harmful levels of these toxins. In some parts of the world, these ingredients are fully banned due to the amount of safety concerns surrounding them. But they are used widely throughout the United States.

These aren’t the only problems

Additional hazards can arise when soap is made with gritty materials to help remove substances like dirt and oil. Some soaps use products like pumice (a type of rough volcanic glass) to do the job. We see it used frequently in occupations such as housekeeping, beauty salons and construction.

While it works to remove the grime, it can cause microabrasions in the skin that can result in skin removal.

Dermatitis Workers’ Compensation

While dermatitis may not seem serious in the grand scheme of work-related injuries, our Providence workers’ compensation lawyers know it can be debilitating in some cases.

One study in the Journal of Allergy examined return-to-work outcomes of 70 workers diagnosed with occupational contact dermatitis. They were tracked for six months, after which time 38 percent were still not working, almost entirely owing to their skin condition. Further, of the 62 percent that had returned to work, nearly a third had changed jobs due to the adverse effects of the skin condition.

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