Study: Workers Perceive High Risk of On-the-Job Chemical Threats

A study of chemical workers in Belgium has revealed some disturbing insights about how these employees view their jobs and their employers.

The research, based on a series of seven focus group interviews, found that:

Even though chemical workers perceive a high risk of on-the-job chemical threats, most are resigned to accepting the risks as being "part of the job."

Workers don't necessarily trust management and health advisors.

Workers frequently identify problems with written safety guidelines.

Written materials on chemical properties, which often serve as the official guide to industrial hygiene practices at factories, are seldom understood or relied on by workers.

"Instead of relying on highly technical fact sheets on toxic risks, many workers turn to the anecdotal experiences of their peers to guide their actions, including choices to wear personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves," the report's lead author, Ramona Hambach of the University of Antwerp in Belgium, said.

Compounding the problem, workers' perceptions of risk are rarely taken into account when considering workplace prevention programs.

Now that chemicals are so widely used across all industrial sectors, exposure risks affect millions of workers every day. The report cites data from the European Trade Union Confederation which concludes that 1830 percent of all recognized occupational diseases in Europe can be attributed to exposure to chemical substances.

The study, entitled Workers' Perception of Chemical Risks: A Focus Group Study, appears in the February issue of the journal "Risk Analysis" published by the Society for Risk Analysis, and it is available here. The conclusions are particularly intriguing in light of recent headlines about workers who were sickened by chemicals at the manufacturing plant of one of Apple's suppliers.

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