The Hazards of Workplace Poisons

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in all age groups. Since 2008, accidental poisoning has surpassed motor vehicle fatalities as the leading cause of injury death, with one poison exposure reported to poison control centers every 14.6 seconds.¹

What is a poison?
A poison is any substance that can harm someone if used in the incorrect amount, by an unintended person or in an inappropriate manner. Some poisons are harmful upon contact with skin or eyes, while others can be toxic if inhaled or swallowed. The four types of poisons are solids (such as pills), liquids (such as cleaners), sprays (such as pesticides) and gases (such as carbon monoxide).² These can be found in homes and workplaces.

Common types of occupational poisoning
Exposure to substances found in the workplace can lead to poisoning, such as carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory irritation and systemic poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas that can overcome a person with no warning. People can die or suffer severe side effects from carbon monoxide poisoning, typically from using gasoline powered tools and generators in areas with inadequate ventilation.³

Irritation of the respiratory system and systemic poisoning can occur when workers are exposed to toxic fumes and particles during welding and cutting operations. Pulmonary siderosis, or Welder’s Disease, is caused by prolonged exposure to iron dust inhalation. Symptoms normally last 24 hours and include nausea, fever and coughing. Proper ventilation while welding can prevent respiratory irritation. If ventilation is insufficient, airline respirators or hose masks must be used.⁴

How to prevent occupational poisoning
Depending on the severity and type of poisoning, effects can range from headaches, nausea and respiratory problems to far more serious—sometimes fatal—ailments. Some ways to avoid workplace poisoning are:

  • Ventilate work areas where hazardous substances are stored and used.
  • Restrict entry to hazardous areas only to authorized and properly equipped workers.
  • Require the use of protective equipment to prevent exposure.
  • Train employees on proper protective equipment and best practices for handling hazardous substances.⁵

What should you do if someone has been poisoned?
If you or someone has been poisoned, immediately call the toll-free Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 to be connected to a local poison center. If the person is not breathing, call 911. Do not wait for signs of poisoning before calling the Poison Help line.²

Visit for more information on how to prevent occupational poisoning.

Be sure to contact your Summit Loss Prevention consultant if you have any questions or concerns.

  1. National Capital Poison Center, Poison Statistics, National Data 2016, (; accessed Jan. 21, 2019).
  2. Health Resources and Services Administration, Poison Help, (; accessed Jan. 21, 2019).
  3. OSHA, Protect Yourself Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, (; accessed Jan. 21, 2019).
  4. OSHA, General Hazard: Respiratory Irritation and Systemic Poisoning, (; accessed Jan. 21, 2019).
  5. Chris Kilbourne, EHS Daily Advisor, Poison Prevention: In the Workplace and at Home, (; accessed Jan. 21, 2019).
The information presented in this publication is intended to provide guidance and is not intended as a legal interpretation of any federal, state or local laws, rules or regulations applicable to your business. The loss prevention information provided is intended only to assist policyholders of Summit managed insurers in the management of potential loss producing conditions involving their premises and/or operations based on generally accepted safe practices. In providing such information, Summit Consulting LLC does not warrant that all potential hazards or conditions have been evaluated or can be controlled. It is not intended as an offer to write insurance for such conditions or exposures. The liability of Summit Consulting LLC and its managed insurers is limited to the terms, limits and conditions of the insurance policies underwritten by any of them.