Some jobs can affect your health and the health of your family.
Workplace hazards affect both men and women. Even if your job involves some hazards, there are things you can do to protect yourself and stay safe at work.
How Workers Come in Contact With Job Hazards
Many workplaces have unique chemicals or work conditions. Some chemicals may be hazardous materials. Chemicals can take different forms—dust, vapor, liquid, or gas.
You might be exposed to (come in contact with) these chemicals during your work day. How much of a chemical you might be exposed to may be affected by:
- Workplace set-up.
- Mechanical or natural ventilation (air flow from windows or outdoor work areas).
- Work practices.
- Personal protective equipment.
If you work with chemicals, they can enter your body in three ways:
- Breathing in the chemical
- Coming in contact with your skin, especially if your skin is chapped, irritated, or if you have an open wound
- Hand-to-mouth (eating, drinking, or touching your mouth with chemicals on your hands)
Chemical exposures can cause health problems. Whether or not they cause health problems depends on:
- What the chemical is.
- How the chemical enters your body.
- How long or how often you are exposed to the chemical.
- How your body reacts to the chemical.
Chemicals aren't the only hazards at work
Some job hazards are not chemicals, but they may still affect your health. Some examples of these hazards are:
- Loud noise
- Long working hours, shift work, or irregular work schedules
- Lifting, bending, and standing
- Extreme heat and cold exposure
- Physical stress or injury from repetitive motion
- Vibration injuries
Understand Your Rights
Workers have the right to:
- Work in a safe place and receive safety training in a language that you understand.
- Ask questions if you don't understand instructions or if something seems unsafe.
- Use and be trained on required safety gear, such as hard hats, goggles, and earplugs.
- File a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). To file a confidential complaint about workplace hazards, visit the OSHA website.
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards, and follow all safety and health standards.
- Provide training about workplace hazards and required safety gear.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Understand your workplace exposures
Answer these questions to start thinking about your workplace exposures. If you talk to a safety professional or health care provider, take your answers to these questions with you. This is important, because they need to understand what you do and what you work with. Also, you can use this information to look up hazards in the Learn More section below.
- 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, actual chemical name, or work condition would be helpful.
- For chemicals, what form are the chemicals in: dust, vapor, liquid, or gas?
- How much time do you spend using each thing that you are concerned about in your workplace?
- Do you use any personal protective equipment or other safety equipment while performing your job?
By law, you have the right to receive information on hazards in your workplace and to receive training on how to stay safe.
- Ask your employer or your company's safety officer about the types of hazards for your specific job tasks and how you can stay safe while doing your job.
- If the company has done testing to identify workplace hazards (for example, measuring chemicals in the air), your employer is required to give you a copy of the results if you ask for them.
- If you work with chemicals, your employer should have safety data sheets (SDS) available for all employees to read. Note: SDS used to be called material safety data sheets (MSDS).
Important: SDS may not have the information you need. If you know the name of the chemical, you can look up information for many chemicals on the New Jersey Right to Know Program's Fact Sheets.
Protect yourself from exposure
Use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly
- If your employer gives you PPE such as gloves, hearing protection, or a respirator, make sure you are using it and are using it correctly.
- Remember to check your PPE before using it to make sure it is working right.
- Talk to your employer or safety officer if you have questions about how to use your PPE.
- Learn more about PPE use at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website.
Follow best safety and health practices
- Learn about best work practices for health and safety, like always keeping chemicals in sealed containers when not in use.
- Follow any safe work guidelines or protocols in your workplace, even if your tasks take a little longer.
- If your employer offers health and safety training, take it.
Protect your home and family
Are you bringing work hazards home with you? Chemicals can come home on your skin, hair, clothes, and shoes, and they can make your car and home unsafe.
Keep a healthy car and home:
- Change clothes and shower before leaving work.
- Keep work clothes out of the living areas of your house.
- Wash work clothes in separate laundry loads from your family's clothes.
Learn more about protecting your home and family on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website.
Get Help When You Need It
Talk to your doctor or health care professional
Not all doctors or health care professionals remember to ask you about your job. If you are concerned about your health, tell your doctor:
- What kinds of work you do.
- What kinds of hazards are in your workplace (for example, chemicals, noise, heat, shift work, lifting heavy objects).
- Anything specific you are worried about or have questions about.
If you and your partner are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, ask your health care professional if there is any part of your job you should not do during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Talk to a health and safety professional
If you have more questions, or if you have multiple hazards in your workplace:
- Talk to your safety officer.
- Visit CDC-INFO or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
- Contact the Wisconsin Occupational Health Program.
- Contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:
If you think your job is affecting your health or the health of your family, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health can help. A Health Hazard Evaluation is a free service from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that will give you or your employer advice about what kinds of health hazards might be in your workplace and how to make your workplace safer. Employers, employees, or union officials can request an evaluation of possible health hazards associated with a job or workplace. For more information, contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Health Hazard Evaluation program.
Information for Young Workers
Young workers are at high risk for getting hurt or sick on the job. Every nine minutes, a U.S. teen gets hurt on the job.
Just starting a job? Two places to learn the basics:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Young Workers website
- The Young Worker's Guide to Working Safely in Wisconsin, P-00990
- Video: "Teen Workers: Real Jobs, Real Risks (Mallory's Story)" from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Find additional safety and health training from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Operation Fresh Start Toolbox Talk cards, P-00282 (PDF) A toolbox talk is a very short informal meeting among workers focused on a single safety topic.
- Operation Fresh Start poster, P-00273 (PDF) Can you spot all the safety violations in this poster?
- 2016 Fact Sheet: Childhood Agricultural Injuries in the U.S. (PDF) Statistics on injuries, but also prevention resources and ideas from the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in Marshfield, WI.
Help for specific situations and questions
- Information on CDC-INFO, Wisconsin Occupational Health Program, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Health Hazard Evaluation Program can be found in the Getting Help section above.
- The New Jersey Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets: Good information on workplace chemicals including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Many are in English and Spanish.
- The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: Find more information on PPE. Contact PPEConcerns@cdc.gov for additional questions.
- Argonne National Laboratory's Safety Gloves Selection Guide: Information on safety gloves and a selection guide.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- All About OSHA: Fast facts about OSHA.
- Rules and regulation information from OSHA for Wisconsin businesses and their workers.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- What are the hazards in this job? Hazard information by industry and occupation.
- How do I protect myself against specific hazards? Workplace safety and health topics.
- Work and reproductive health webpages: pregnancy and breastfeeding and men’s reproductive health.
Occupations and work-related conditions
- Workplace asthma: You Don't Have to Wheeze at Work is a blog post including an infographic on workplace asthma.
- Toolbox talks: A very short informal meeting among workers, in English and Spanish, focused on construction safety.
- How to stay safe on the job (PDF): An infographic for EMS providers.
Learn more about specific work exposures
- Carbon Monoxide: Information from Wisconsin Public Health on carbon monoxide exposure and health effects.
- Heat stress and cold stress in the workplace: Fast facts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on heat stress and cold stress.
- Ladder safety: Download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ladder app for your mobile device.
- Lead Hazards: Visit our Adult Lead Program's For Workers and All Adults page to learn more about lead exposure in the workplace.
- Lifting safely: Download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's lifting equation app.
- Noise and hearing loss: Check the noise level using a sound level meter app for your mobile device. Visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website for more hearing loss resources.
- Poison Ivy. Watch this video from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Shift work. Find help and information for shift workers from the National Sleep Foundation.
Selected text adapted with permission from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
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