Exposure to Unknown Hazards


A hazard is anything in the environment that makes you vulnerable to sickness or physical harm. There are both known and unknown hazards. Exposure to unknown hazards can be dangerous because the person at risk does not know that they are exposed to them. If you are exposed to these unknown hazards, there are many ways that they can enter the body. One of the ways that it can enter is by inhalation. This means any toxin that is in the air will enter through your nose and have the possibility of getting stuck in your lungs.

For example, if a building is emitting chemicals through smoke into the air and there is a neighborhood close by, those people are at risk of getting a disease that could be life threatening. The second way for hazards to enter the body is through ingestion. This means that you eat or drink something that is contaminated. An example of this is a water source that is contaminated with lead. This water has the potential to be ingested by a small child who is still at the age of developing and can slowly cause harm to their body. This can lead to slow learning, difficulty concentrating, and in the worse cases possible, brain damage (AACAP). The third route that a hazard can enter the body is through the skin. This way of entrance is most likely one that people do not readily consider. Occupational skin diseases are an example of the second most common type of diseases that happen while on the job (CDC).

An example of someone who is at high risk for all of the exposures previously mentioned are those who respond to natural disasters. When responders help with the aftermath of hurricanes, they more than likely need to walk through tall waters. These waters could have chemicals that leaked during the storm and have now contaminated the water. When walking through these waters and not having proper clothing, the chemicals can be absorbed into your skin. These chemicals can also be in the form of water vapor, which would then enter the body through inhalation. This could lead to problems with the lungs, including lung cancer. Toxins could also enter the workers’ body through ingestion of toxic water. The following are symptoms of all three routes of exposure according to the Center for Diseases Control:

Table 1: Symptoms of Exposure


Common Causes


Dizziness, headache

Solvents, paint, ozone, smoke (including tobacco)


Red, watery, irritated, grainy feeling

Smoke, gases, various dusts, vapors from paint and cleaners

Nose and Throat

Sneezing, coughing, sore throat

Smoke, ozone, solvents, various dusts, vapors and fumes from paint and cleaners

Chest and Lungs

Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, lung cancer

Metal fumes, various dusts, smoke, solvents, vapors from paint and cleaners


Nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea

Some metal fumes, solvents, paint vapors, long-term lead exposure


Redness, dryness, rash, itching, skin cancer

Solvents, chromium, nickel, detergents and cleaners, paint on skin

Nervous System

Nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, tremors, loss of balance or coordination

Long-term solvent exposure, long-term lead exposure

Reproductive System

For men: low sperm count, damage to sperm

For women: irregularities in menstruation, miscarriage, damage to egg or fetus

Lead, toluene, some other solvents, ethylene oxide gas


Despite all of the downfalls to being exposed to hazard materials, there are many ways to prevent these hazards from entering your body. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they recommend the following ways to help prevent yourself from being harmed while on the job:

Table 2: Preventing Exposure

Eye and face protection

Goggles, full-face shields so that you can be protected against flying objects and liquid splash hazards

Hand protection

Appropriate gloves suitable for the tasks being performed and considerations that include bloodborne pathogens, chemicals hazards, physical hazards such as abrasions, cuts, and punctures

Work clothing and gear

Chemical protective clothing where contact with chemicals may occur

Leg protection

Snake boots or snake gaiters to protect against snake bites in areas where snakes are indigenous

Respiratory protection

The mandatory use of respirators requires compliance with the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134), including the development of a written respiratory protection program that describes how respirators will be cleaned, maintained, and stored; a filter or cartridge change out schedule based on the work expected