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[Note: Annotations made in green text below are tips/commentary by ILPI, not OSHA.]
Although safety hazards related to the physical characteristics of a chemical can be objectively defined in terms of testing requirements
(e.g. flammability), health hazard definitions are less precise and more subjective. Health hazards may cause measurable changes in the body - such as
decreased pulmonary (lung) function. These changes are generally indicated by the occurrence of signs and symptoms in the exposed employees - such as shortness of breath, a non-measurable, subjective feeling. Employees exposed to such hazards must be apprised of both the change in body function and the signs and symptoms that may occur to signal that change.|
The determination of occupational health hazards is complicated by the fact that many of the effects or signs and symptoms occur commonly in non-occupationally exposed populations, so that effects of exposure are difficult to separate from normally occurring illnesses. Occasionally, a substance causes an effect that is rarely seen in the population at large, such as angiosarcomas (malignant tumors arising from blood vessels) caused by vinyl chloride (a halogenated organic chemical) exposure, thus making it easier to ascertain that the occupational exposure was the primary causative factor. More often, however, the effects are common, such as lung cancer. The situation is further complicated by the fact that most chemicals have not been adequately tested to determine their health hazard potential, and data do not exist to substantiate these effects.
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There have been many attempts to categorize effects and to define them in various ways. Generally, the terms "acute" and "chronic" are used to delineate between effects on the basis of severity or duration. "Acute" effects usually occur rapidly as a result of short-term exposures, and are of short duration. "Chronic" effects generally occur as a result of long-term exposure, and are of long duration.
The acute effects referred to most frequently are those defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for Precautionary Labeling of Hazardous Industrial Chemicals (Z129.1-1988) - irritation, corrosivity, sensitization and lethal dose. Although these are important health effects, they do not adequately cover the considerable range of acute effects which may occur as a result of occupational exposure, such as, for example, narcosis.
Similarly, the term chronic effect is often used to cover only carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, and mutagenicity. These effects are obviously a concern in the workplace, but again, do not adequately cover the area of chronic effects, excluding, for example, blood dyscrasias (such as anemia [iron deficiency]), chronic bronchitis and liver atrophy.
The goal of defining precisely, in measurable terms, every possible health effect that may occur in the workplace as a result of chemical exposures cannot realistically be accomplished. This does not negate the need for employees to be informed of such effects and protected from them. Appendix B, which is also mandatory, outlines the principles and procedures of hazard assessment.
The following is a target organ categorization of effects which may occur, including examples of signs and symptoms and chemicals which have been found to cause such effects. These examples are presented to illustrate the range and diversity of effects and hazards found in the workplace, and the broad scope employers must consider in this area, but are not intended to be all-inclusive.
|Class and definition||Signs and Symptoms||Examples of such chemicals|
|Hepatotoxins - produce hepatic (liver) damage||Jaundice, liver enlargement||Carbon tetrachloride, nitrosamines|
|Nephrotoxins - produce kidney damage||Edema, proteinuria||Halogenated hydrocarbons, uranium|
|Neurotoxins - produce their primary toxic effects on the nervous system||Narcosis, behavioral changes, decrease in motor functions||Mercury, carbon disulfide|
|Hemato-poietic agents - act on the blood or hemato-poietic system, decrease hemoglobin function, deprive the body tissues of oxygen||Cyanosis, loss of consciousness||Carbon monoxide, cyanides|
|Agents which damage the lung - these irritate or damage pulmonary (lung) tissue||Cough, tightness in chest, shortness of breath||Silica, asbestos|
|Reproductive toxins - affect the reproductive capabilities including chromosomal damage (mutations) and effects on fetuses (teratogenesis)||Birth defects, sterility||Lead, DBCP|
|Cutaneous hazards - affect the dermal layer (skin) of the body||Defatting of the skin, rashes, irritation||Ketones, chlorinated compounds|
|Eye hazards - affect the eye or visual capacity||Conjunctivitis, corneal damage||organic solvents, acids|
The official, public domain, OSHA version of this document is available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10099&p_text_version=FALSE.