Toxic Exposure In The Workplace

An EcoChi Vital Abstract

This article was posted on March 5, 2019 by Zoë Schlanger, Quartz.

Around the world, a worker dies from toxic exposure in their workplace every 30 seconds, according to a 2018 UN report published in September by Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations special rapporteur on toxics. In total, around 2.8 million workers globally die from unsafe or unhealthy work conditions per year, according to the report. And diseases resulting from workplaces—like lung cancer linked to inhaling carcinogenic substances on the job—account for around 86% of all premature death. “In my view, much of what I describe in the report is criminal conduct,” Tuncak said in his address to the Human Rights Council in September. Cancer is by far the biggest contributor to those deaths, making up roughly 70% of workplace diseases. “Almost all such cancers can be prevented,” the report reads. “More than 200 different known factors, including toxic chemicals and radiation, have been identified to date as known or probable human carcinogens, and workers are exposed to many of these in the course of their jobs,” the UN report reads. “Debilitating and fatal lung diseases, neurological disabilities, and reproductive impairments such as infertility and inability to carry a pregnancy to term are among various other health impacts that plague workers exposed to toxic substances.” Hwang Yumi, a 23-year-old Samsung employee, died of leukemia in 2007 after working for the company for five years, Tuncak said, “where she was likely exposed to toxic substances every day without meaningful consent.” In the report, he writes: “The Special Rapporteur heard testimony from former Samsung workers (all women) and their family members about tasks performed in the manufacture of semiconductor chips, such as dipping semiconductors into a chemical solution by hand to remove unnecessary parts and manually sorting and testing chips under high temperatures or voltages, releasing fumes. Former workers explained that they would still smell fumes from the workplace long after returning home. Neither the former workers nor the family members of the deceased could name the substances they had used in the workplace.” The diseases and disabilities that result from exposure to toxic substances are cruel,” Tuncak said. “The particularly heinous nature of this exploitation is that there are almost always alternatives to prevent or minimize exposure. Solutions to this abuse of workers’ rights are available, should States choose to compel businesses to adopt them.”

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