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Occupational diseases and skin exposures

While most people in California may think of workplace injuries as only including obvious personal physical injuries, exposure to a number of different chemicals can lead to disorders and diseases as well. These occupational or work-related injuries and illnesses may also be covered under workers' compensation.

Chemicals can cause permanent damage by penetrating through the skin. Through constant exposure at work, the buildup of the chemical in the body over time may cause lasting neurological and organ damage. Some people will have immune system reactions to chemicals as their bodies have allergic reactions to the chemical. Others may experience localized irritation at the site of the exposure. These are the two main categories of what are called occupational contact dermatitis. The irritant contact dermatitis accounts for 80 percent of the reported cases.

Workers may be injured by splashes, immersion, direct contact with surfaces that are contaminated or the use of aerosols. Chemicals can be absorbed through the dermal layer, often without being immediately noticed by the worker. The degree of absorption can depend on several factors, including any existing damage to the skin, the quality of the skin's outer layer, the temperature, the substance's physical and chemical makeup and the substance's concentration. Workers in many different industries may be exposed to chemicals, including those in the cosmetics industry, food service, health care, construction, agriculture, painting, cleaning, printing and mechanics.

Toxic exposure can result in debilitating injuries. When the exposure has occurred while the person is working, coverage may be available through workers' compensation. Most employers are required by law to carry workers' compensation insurance in order to protect their workers. When filing a claim based on an occupational disease, the medical documentation supporting the claim is often of vital importance. If a claim is denied, a workers' compensation attorney may be able to assist.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skin Exposures & Effects", December 28, 2014

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