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How can I find out about toxins in my New Jersey workplace?

Many New Jersey employees work with or around dangerous chemicals, although workers may not know how harmful they are. Employers are expected to inform workers about toxic chemicals and the hazards they pose to employees' health and safety. Those rules, regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are sometimes ignored.

The agency's Hazard Communication Standard compels chemical manufacturers to label products and include "material safety data sheets." MSDS let chemical buyers know about dangers involved in using the products. This information should be -- but isn't always -- passed along from employers to employees.

Consequently, a Bergen County worker unknowingly may become the victim of herbicide or other chemical exposure. You don't have to wait for an employer to share information about toxins. You can request MSDS for individual chemicals and products containing them.

Material safety data sheets should supply information about the toxicity, chemical reactions and physical properties of a chemical. Completed MSDS include how to store and dispose of toxins, use the chemical safely and respond to accidents. You'll also learn what protective equipment should be used to handle the chemical and what health problems or physical dangers are possible.

This is information you have a right to know. Ask an employer about safety precautions the company takes to reduce chronic bronchitis from exposure to smoke and chemicals. Ask whether the airborne concentrations of workplace chemicals are monitored and request business safety records.

Employers must provide the information to conform to OSHA guidelines. Companies are also responsible for training workers to use chemicals in a safe manner. Employers may not retaliate against workers who make inquiries about safety or file complaints about unsafe conditions.

Federal officials believe work practice controls are the keys to decrease workers' exposure to toxins. Creating and maintaining safe work environments are an employer's responsibility. Workers injured by chemicals may be eligible for compensation through workers' compensation or other sources.

Source: FindLaw, "Toxic Exposure in the Workplace" Oct. 20, 2014

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