Workers are exposed to dangerous substances in many European workplaces. Such exposures are more common than most people realise and, in fact, may occur in almost all workplaces. This presents major safety and health concerns.
A dangerous substance is any solid, liquid or gas that has the potential to cause damage to the safety or health of workers. Exposure can occur through inhalation, skin penetration or ingestion.
Workplace exposures to dangerous substances are linked to acute and long-term health issues, including:
- respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma, rhinitis, asbestosis and silicosis)
- harm to inner organs, including the brain and the nervous system
- skin irritation and diseases
- occupational cancers (e.g. leukaemia, lung cancer, mesothelioma and cancer of the nasal cavity).
In addition, the presence of dangerous substances can put workers at risk of fire, explosion, acute poisoning and suffocation.
EU-OSHA’s second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2) reveals that dangerous substances are most prevalent in certain sectors, such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.
However, workers in all sectors are potentially at risk of exposure to dangerous substances. In fact, overall, 38 % of European enterprises report potentially dangerous chemical or biological substances in their workplaces. Therefore, it is vital that the risks are identified and managed.