Workplace Safety and Health Information for Workers

 COVID-19 impact on Occupational Health

Learn how worker safety and health is impacted by COVID-19.


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

Chemical exposures

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:

  • Radiation
  • 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.
Employers must:
  • 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?
Ask questions

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.

Learn more at these National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health websites about work and reproductive health: pregnancy and breastfeeding and men’s reproductive health.

Talk to a health and safety professional

If you have more questions, or if you have multiple hazards in your workplace:

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:
Additional resources

Resources about Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Additional Information

Help for specific situations and questions
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Occupations and work-related conditions
Learn more about specific work exposures
  • Carbon Monoxide: Information from Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of 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.

Questions? Can't find what you're looking for? Contact us!

Last Revised: July 15, 2021