Benzene is a potentially hazardous flammable liquid that is used in a variety of products like rubber, dyes, plastics, paints, and pesticides. Workers in many industries like painters, chemical and rubber plant workers, and firefighters risk being exposed to this toxic substance. Those working around it on a long-term basis can suffer serious illnesses like low white blood cell counts with an increased risk of infection, leukemia, and other cancers. Because of these life-threatening dangers, employers must be vigilant in following safety practices to limit employees’ exposure to this hazardous substance.
12 Important Practices Employers Should Follow to Protect Workers
While employers may not be able to eliminate the use of benzene in their workplaces, they can follow safety guidelines—many mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—designed to limit workers’ exposure to this chemical and to monitor workers’ health in case of exposure. These procedures should be followed:
- Provide workers to be exposed to benzene with a pre-exposure medical exam that includes a complete physical exam and blood count and a thorough medical exam annually.
- Train workers in the hazards of working with benzene.
- Keep benzene in clearly labeled containers.
- Monitor airborne concentrations of benzene and implement OSHA-required engineering controls if the concentrations exceed recommended levels.
- Keep areas where benzene is used and stored properly ventilated.
- Provide workers with eye wash fountains and emergency showers, and require them to wash if they come in contact with benzene and after any shift.
- Provide clean clothes for workers to change into if their clothes become contaminated.
- Forbid workers from taking contaminated clothing home and train them in the safe cleaning of these clothes.
- Implement rules prohibiting eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where benzene is being used.
- Train workers in how to safely clean up spills of benzene.
- Train workers in how to properly store and handle benzene, including storing it and using in a designated area.
- Have an evacuation plan for workers if there is a spill or a fire.
In addition, employers must provide workers with personal protection equipment that complies with OSHA requirements. These include the following:
- Gloves and clothing. Clean clothing—suits, gloves, footwear, and headgear—should be provided to workers and worn daily. The clothing must be made of materials that cannot be permeated or damaged by benzene.
- Eye protection. Workers need to use a face shield as well as goggles that are impact- and splash-resistant.
- Respiratory protection. Employers should implement a program that takes into account workplace conditions, provides for employee training, requires respirator fit testing, and provides medical exams as required by OSHA rules to ensure respirators are used properly. Workers must also use the required respirator for the level of benzene they are in danger of being exposed to.
5 Ways Employers Can Reduce Employee Health Risks After Benzene Exposure
Employers need to establish safety practices for employees who come into contact with benzene. Taking immediate action can reduce the danger these workers face of future health problems. Any worker exposed to benzene should be required to do the following:
- Get fresh air. If benzene is released into the air, employees need to go outside into fresh air or evacuate to a designated shelter in the building.
- Remove clothing. Workers in contact with benzene need to remove their clothing as soon as possible. Any shirts that need to be removed over the person’s head should be cut off instead.
- Washing. Washing with lots of soap and water will help remove the chemicals from the worker’s skin. This needs to be done immediately after exposure.
- Disposing of clothes. The employee should try not to touch the contaminated areas of the clothing or should wear rubber gloves when getting rid of it. To reduce the risk someone else or the worker will be further exposed, clothes should be double bagged in two sealed plastic bags. Emergency personnel should be notified of the bag’s location.
- Seek medical care. Any workers exposed to benzene should seek immediate medical care to minimize the long-term effects of the exposure.
Were you or a family member exposed to benzene on the job? You could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey law for your medical treatments and lost wages. Start an online chat today to schedule a free consultation to learn how I can assist you in getting the compensation you deserve.