Chances are that most of your patients hold at least one job.
Here are some simple steps you can take to help your patients stay safe at work.
What you can do to help your patients
Ask about your patient's work
Many of your patients work more than one job or change jobs or job tasks often. Here are a few basic questions to ask at every visit:
- What do you do in your job? What does your department or group do or make?*
- What are you concerned about in your workplace? (Any information on product name, chemical name, or work condition is helpful).
- (For chemicals) What form are the chemicals in: dust, vapor, liquid, or gas?
- Does your skin or clothing ever come into contact with chemicals?
- How much time do you spend using each thing that you are concerned about in your workplace?
- Do you use any personal protective equipment (for example, gloves, respirators)? For what tasks do you use this equipment?
*If lead exposure is possible, see additional information at our Adult Lead Program's For Health Professionals page.
Know which exposures need to be addressed and reported
- Some occupational health conditions must be reported to the State. Non-infectious Category II Diseases such as Environmental and Occupational Lung Diseases and "Toxic substance related diseases," including carbon monoxide poisoning, adult lead poisoning, metal poisonings other than lead, and pesticide poisonings. Questions on non-lead metal poisonings and pesticide poisonings can be directed to DHSEnvHealth@dhs.wi.gov.
- There are also work-related risks for many Category I and Category II infectious diseases. It is important to enter the patient's Industry and Occupation, if entering the data into WEDSS, or Employer and Occupation, if completing the Acute and Communicable Disease Report, F-44151. (PDF) Note any suspected work-related exposures. Complete reporting instructions and investigation protocols for most diseases can be found by clicking on the name of each disease on the Disease Reporting page.
- Your patients' companies might have an occupational health physician, nurse, or safety officer with whom you can talk about your patients' specific job tasks.
- The resources below or your fellow colleagues can also provide insight into the hazards of your patient's job if you are unfamiliar.
Pay special attention to working patients who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to have a child
- Talk to your patients about what they can do to stay safe while at work. Workplace hazards such as stress, noise, working night shifts, and standing or sitting for long periods of time also need to be considered.
- Ask your patients if they will be able to take time off to attend prenatal care visits or take their baby to the doctor and how they can schedule these visits around their job.
- Talk with each patient about how soon after the birth they plan to return to work, and their plans for breastfeeding while working.
- Consult with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-INFO for specific breastfeeding cases. Although the impact of medications on breast-feeding has been reported, much less is known about the impact of occupational exposures on breastfeeding.
Help your patients protect their home and family
Workers can bring work hazards home with them. Chemicals can come home on a worker's skin, clothes, and shoes and contaminate the car and home.
- Ask your patients about the types of jobs held by everyone in the household. Jobs that involve contact with lead (for example, construction, painting, home renovation, battery recycling) are some of the most common sources of car and home contamination.
- Encourage your patients to create a healthy car and home by having workers change clothes and shower before leaving work, not bring work clothes into the living areas of the house, and wash work clothes in separate laundry loads from the family's clothes.
Find more information
- The employer's Safety Data Sheets (formerly Material Safety Data Sheets) may not indicate all hazards. Additional information can be found in New Jersey's Right to Know Hazardous Substance Program's Fact Sheets, which list specific hazards and ways to reduce exposure to many chemicals, including appropriate personal protective equipment.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website has information about the most common workplace hazards; for more uncommon situations, you can contact us to ask specific questions.
- E-mail the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) at CDC-INFO or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) for specific questions about workplace hazards.
- Taking an Exposure History: From CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Case Studies in Environmental Medicine. This continuing education module has helpful checklists and guidance for clinicians.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Reproductive Health Page has information on pregnancy and breastfeeding for workers. A related page describes occupational reproductive health for men.
- Visit the Adult Lead Program's For Health Professionals page for more information on lead and your adult patients.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Contact information for Wisconsin OSHA offices.
- All About OSHA (PDF): A booklet introducing OSHA.
- How to stay safe on the job (PDF): An infographic for EMS providers.
Selected text adapted with permission from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
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