Hazardous chemicals – looking beyond the obvious

Environment Safety Health

Potentially dangerous substances don’t always come from the outside. Elsbeth Vogel, senior legal counsel at Philips Innovation Services takes a look at recent publications* which claim chemicals our bodies produce can be as harmful as the substances people might normally think of when considering hazardous chemicals.

Under Dutch jurisdiction, employer liability towards employees is rigidly defined: if working conditions lead to employee health setbacks, the employer is liable. Therefore, the employer has an obligation to inventorize and evaluate all risks related to workplace activities, such as human exposure to hazardous substances. Measures must be defined and implemented to reduce these risks.

To evaluate dangers related to substances, specific medical assessments are carried out, such as analysis of blood or urine samples. Results can provide evidence that exposure is below a certain risk level. The usual procedure in industrial workplaces means carrying out a considerable amount of scientific and medical testing to assess risk, check exposure and take measures.

Office environment, safety and health issues

In office workplaces, however, the effect of dangerous substances on human health is hardly seen as an issue. Yet working conditions in the office might be as dangerous as those in a factory where dangerous substances are handled. Office workers may actually be producing dangerous substance levels (cortisol, sugar) themselves. This could result from stress and lack of exercise during the day. Sitting in more or less the same position for hours. Not taking a walk at lunchtime because financial targets have to be met. There is a growing body of evidence that these dangers are lowering life expectancy significantly.

Dangerous substances from within

Although we closely monitor dangerous substances outside the body, we don’t monitor stress-induced cortisol levels. Industrial workplaces are aligned to the needs of the human body, whereas the office worker has to stay put in his chair. Employers are unaware of the amount of lost working days because of these risks nor are they anticipating claims from their white-collar workers who suffer health setbacks.

For employers and occupational health professionals it is vital to be aware that office staff can be exposed to dangerous substances which aren’t immediately visible. Philips Innovation Services, Environment and Safety provides a number of services in the area of risk inventorization and hazardous substances, as well as workplace analysis by an occupation health expert.

  • Read more about potential health risks of substances from within:
    How to overcome the negative effects of shift work, Huffington Post, 23 February 2014
    – Een zittend leven duurt niet lang (‘A life of desk work doesn’t last long’) NRC daily, 17 September 2013

Would you like to find out how you might benefit from Philips Innovation Services’ expertise? Check out more on our Potential Hazards Control and ESH Compliance and Legal Counselling service or contact us to discuss how we may help you.

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