Preventing Occupational Illness

Most people confuse the terms safe and healthy. A safe worksite will prevent injury, a healthy worksite will prevent illness. An occupational illness refers to any type of disease or condition caused by the workplace.

Examples could be respiratory diseases, skin reactions and even sun burn. So, how do we keep a worksite healthy?


A large number of occupational related diseases are a result of an employer or employee not knowing the dangers of a substance with which they are working. Every employer is required to maintain a list of chemicals and the harmful effects they may produce, called the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). If you have not looked through the MSDS forall chemicals used in your workplace, it is never too late to do so. If you have questions about the MSDS talk with your supervisor.

Proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

There are three typical routes of exposure for occupational disease: inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption. PPE is designed to provide a barrier between you and each of these exposure routes.


  • There are several different types of respiratory masks and cartridges or filters that attach to the mask, depending on the hazard. ALL MASKS AND CARTRIDGES ARE NOT THE SAME.
  • Make sure you are using the right one to protect you from the hazard with which you are being exposed.


Food and drinks can absorb chemicals in the air and carry them into your body. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before eating.

Dermal Absorption

The skin is excellent at protecting you from water soluble chemicals. However, solvents, oils, etc. can slip right past your skin barrier. You may not feel it, but you can absorb dangerous levels of chemicals simply by touching them. Gloves, other skin barriers are designed to protect you when your skin cannot.

Presenter tips

  • Pre-read the Toolbox Talk. Your comfort level and confidence will be higher if you know your topic.
  • Discuss related tasks, work areas or events that make the Toolbox Talk relevant to your job site.
  • Involve the workers by asking questions and input that drives discussion.

Questions for Discussion

  • What is an example of an occupational illness?
  • With the exception of eating and drinking, how is it possible to ingest a potential hazardous substance while in the workplace?
  • Will the materials you work with cause an occupational illness?