Dangerous substances – Is your workplace toxic, what are the alternatives_ (1)

I met Louise 2 years ago at a CMA Kick-off event in Dundee.  Naturally when you are at a business event you find out what each other does for a living.  Louise told me that she used to be an employment lawyer but she was attending the Content Marketing Academy event to find out how she could use content marketing to spread the word about her brother Michael and raise awareness about safe working practices.

Michael was an experienced electrician who tragically died after he was electrocuted whilst at work.  He was carrying out a task he had done 1000's of times before, but through a series of safety failures this time it was fatal…

Here is Michael’s story told by Louise:

I find it very difficult to watch Louise tell Michael’s story without crying; such a sad, heart-wrenching thing to happen that could have been so easily avoided.

What is International Workers Memorial Day?

The 28th April, 2019 marks International Workers Memorial Day all over the world.  It was set up to commemorate workers who have lost their lives in workplace tragedies and individuals who have left for work never to return to their families.

The theme for this year’s Memorial Day is “Dangerous substances get them out of the workplace”

Exposure to toxins can come in many different forms:

definitions of toxic exposure

Increased awareness of how workers are exposed to dangers in the workplace and also the risks associated with dangerous substances is crucial, why?

2.3 million Women and men around the world succumb to work related accidents or diseases every year.

160 million - Occupational diseases per year. Most of the occupational diseases in the list are caused by chemical agents.

651,279 estimated death toll from hazardous substances per year

These and more shocking statistics can be found in a document put together by the International Trade Union Confederation.  Regardless of whether or not you work directly with dangerous substances, you need to read this:

ITUC Toxic work - Fact sheet

“But my business doesn’t use dangerous substances or harmful chemicals”

Are you sure?

When the majority of us think about chemicals and dangerous substances in the workplace, the initial thoughts of many could be acid, lead or maybe pesticides or solvents.

  • Offices
  • Nurseries
  • Schools
  • Swimming pools
  • Hair dressers
  • Therapists
  • Vets
  • Doctor’s surgeries
  • Dentists
  • Restaurants
  • Cafes

Dangerous substances can be found in pretty much every industry

They can be bought freely from supermarkets and shop in the UK and other parts of the world.

One of the most common substance, widely available today is chlorine.  Chlorine can be found in many products and used in varying work places.

Chlorine can go under the guise of other names; sodium hypochlorite or hypochlorite but a great number of every day products contain chlorine, such as:

  • Cleaning products
  • Dishwasher tablets
  • Disinfectants
  • Bleached paper(napkins, toilet roll, tissues and paper towels)
  • Sanitiser products

There is no age limit to buying these products yet, used incorrectly, mixed with other products, ingested or inhaled could cause serious illness or death.

Is shop bought chlorine dangerous?

Yes.

Chlorine is effective at killing bacteria and viruses but also come with significant disadvantages:

  • Chlorine bleach releases fumes into the air even after application
  • It requires a considerably longer contact time to kill bacteria and viruses
  • Irritates and damages skin in humans and animals
  • Can cause serious eye damage
  • If released into the environment it is very toxic to aquatic life

Is chlorine dangerous for children?

Chlorine is a corrosive, hazardous substance and the majority of people understand the highly dangerous implications if it were to be swallowed.  Have you stopped to consider the issues that can arise when the fumes from chlorine are inhaled?

Even after bleach has been applied to a surface and rinsed, the fumes are still present in the air.  Studies have shown that chlorine has an adverse effect on the respiratory system of children.  Places with bleach usage showed a higher number of asthma and allergy sufferers than in establishments where alternatives may be used.

Is chlorine dangerous to cats and dogs?

Ultra-concentrated bleach can result in severe lesions on the skin, and in lesser cases, skin irritation.

If your furry friend happens to ingest any of these products, toxicity could result in complications within the digestive and respiratory systems.

Animals use their sense of smell to understand their surroundings; the strong smell from bleach reacts with your dog’s olfactory receptors, damaging them and can result in ‘nose blindness’.  Damage to these receptors leaves them unable to process the world around them.

If you suspect that your pet may have inhaled or ingested a toxic chemical always seek medical advice from a vet.

Remember; not all dogs have the intelligence of Lassie; animals are inquisitive and ultimately led by their nose and their stomachs.

Exposure to any chemical comes with its own risks; a weak solution of bleach may not have any obvious effect on a St Bernard but could have dire effects on a Chihuahua.

What are the alternatives to chlorine?

Stop and think about your business and your home…  What products do you use that contain harsh chemicals?

Check the labels; I could hazard a guess that at most of them contain a dangerous substance?

If this is the case, have you considered a safe alternative?

Safe, eco-friendly alternatives are on the rise.  Manufacturers know that consumers are looking for products that will not harm humans, animals or the environment so more and more products are arriving on the market.

There are a couple of popular online sites where you can find many ethical and safe products:

Ethical superstore

Big Green Smile

Work shouldn’t be dangerous. We should be making things, not making orphans. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary

It is a poignant statement but hits home how important it is that current practices need to change.

The problem with chemicals

Whether you work in a large organisation or small office, it is likely that dangerous substances are used.  Hazardous chemicals should be eliminated or, where this is not possible, changed for a safer alternative.  At home, the same processes can be applied.

What next?

What can you do?

Fight for the living

Can you make a difference in your workplace?

Are there chemicals being used that could be substituted for a safe alternative?

Do you know someone who works in a hazardous environment and needs Louise’s help to make their workplace safety a top priority?

Maybe, as a start, you could share this video with them:

To be able to share Michael’s story publically to 1,000’s of people, to fight so fiercely to make sure tragic events like this never happen again, to able to do this without breaking down every time – this makes Louise one of the strongest people I have had the pleasure in meeting.

What can you do at home?  Can you swap out your current products for something safe and ethical?

Making changes in the products we use, the food we eat and how we stay healthy and active can seem like a daunting task.

Where do you start?

Where do you find the time?

Maybe you have you made some changes but don't know what else you can do?

Our ‘Detoxify your life’ project could help you along the way; one email each month with helpful suggestions to detoxify your life one step at a time – interested?

Remember the dead on April 28th 2019 by supporting International Workers Memorial Day

#IWMD19

Sources:

https://www.ituc-csi.org

https://www.ilo.org/global/statistics-and-databases/lang--en/index.htm

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