Hesperian Health Guides

Work with Chemicals

In this chapter:

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Avoid all unnecessary contact with chemicals.

It is easy to come into contact with dangerous chemicals, often without knowing it. This is because many modern products used in daily life and at work contain hidden chemicals. Some of them can be very harmful, such as:

  • pesticides, fertilizers, weed killers, and animal dips.
  • paints, paint thinners, paint remover and solvents.
  • fuels and pottery glazes with lead in them.
  • cleaning products containing bleach and lye.
  • hair dressing and beauty products.

Health problems

Some chemicals cause harm to your body right away, even if you do not feel sick. Others cause harm that shows up later on, even after you have stopped using the chemicals. Some effects last only a short time. Other effects are permanent.


To reduce the health risks from working with harmful chemicals, try to:

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Keep chemicals away from children. Always look for poison warnings, or this picture, on the label.
  • avoid getting chemicals on your skin. When using chemicals at home, use rubber kitchen gloves (or plastic bags). When using chemicals at work, including farming, use thicker gloves and wear shoes. Otherwise, chemicals can get into your body.
  • wash your hands after touching chemicals. If you have been using strong chemicals, like pesticides, change your clothes and wash yourself before eating or coming into the house. Use rubber gloves when you wash these clothes.
  • avoid breathing in fumes (vapors) from chemicals. Work where fresh air flows freely. Use a fan or ventilation system. A cloth or paper mask will not protect you from breathing in chemical fumes.

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  • keep chemicals away from food. Never use chemical storage containers for food or water, even after they have been washed. A container that looks very clean can still have enough chemical to poison the food or water. Do not use sprays near food or on a windy day.

If a chemical gets in your eye, flush it immediately with water. Keep flushing for 15 minutes. Do not let the water get into the other eye. If your eye is burned, see a health worker.

This page was updated:13 Nov 2023