Information to help reduce your environmental exposures in the workplace

Work Matters: Resources

The following resources can help you understand your rights and prevent or minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals.
For even more information on your rights, visit our Know Your Rights Page and visit each of the 6 Steps on the Work Matters page

The resources pages follow the outline of the Work Matters brochure. View online or download a printable copy of the Work Matters brochure.

1. Find Out Which Chemicals You May Be Exposed To

Knowing the chemicals you may be exposed to at work is the first step towards being able to prevent harmful exposures. Your employer is required to provide you with this critical information, but it is also important that you know what to look for on your own.

Tox Town, available in both English and Spanish, is an interactive guide to commonly encountered toxic substances, your health, and the environment. Tox Town helps users explore a Port, Town, City, Farm, or US-Mexico Border community to identify common environmental hazards.

The Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has compiled a list of health and safety resources for workers in English or in Spanish.

Common Workplace Hazards: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a list of common workplace hazards that could be harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Learn what to look out for and how to eliminate or reduce exposure from substances such as formaldehyde, pesticides, disinfectants and smoke.

Exploring Chemical Exposure for California's Women Workers is an interactive tool developed by researchers at UC San Francisco and the California Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health Branch, as a part of an ongoing study focused on understanding potential breast cancer risks related to workplace chemical exposures.

2. Find Out About the Health Effects of the Chemicals You May Be Exposed To

Once you have identified a list of chemicals that you may be exposed to at work it is important to understand how each can affect your health. This will help you identify the specific chemicals that pose the greatest threat to your health and pregnancy.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP), Office of Health Assessment and Translation web site is a resource for the latest information about potentially hazardous effects of chemicals on human reproduction and development. You can find a list of the chemicals it has evaluated here.

Proposition 65, a California initiative also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires publication of a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. IARC has international expert working groups that evaluate the evidence of the carcinogenicity of specific exposures and publishes these findings through the IARC Monographs Programme. You can find information about chemicals that cause cancer from their recent publications here.

The National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is a congressionally mandated, science-based, public health document that is prepared for the HHS Secretary by the National Toxicology Program. The report identifies agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.

3. Know How You and Your Baby Can Be Exposed to Chemicals

It is impossible to control the types of toxic chemicals used in your workplace, but you can educate yourself on the most common routes of exposure. This knowledge will help you better protect yourself from harmful exposures.

Exposures at Work During Prenancy: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention discusses potential dangerous exposures at work during pregnancy. You can search common job titles or known chemicals to learn about the corresponding risks and how to stay safe during work.

The Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (OLPPP), a program in the California Department of Public Health, answers questions about the health hazards of lead, including effects on reproduction and the developing fetus. 

4. Be Aware of Harmful Exposures

The type of chemical you are exposed to, the amount, and how and when you are exposed are important factors in determining whether your exposure will be harmful.The Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS) is an occupational health program in the California Department of Public Health.  HESIS evaluates the dangers of chemicals in the workplace and develops practical information for workers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Chemical Data Access Tool (CDAT) to help navigate the health and safety information submitted to EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This information is part of EPA's effort to increase transparency in TSCA information held by the agency and is intended for individuals interested in learning more about chemicals that are manufactured or imported into the United States.

Comprehesive Database of State Laws: A database of occupational safety and health standards developed by Public Citizen and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research program. This includes workplace safety and health hazard information on 25 states for general industry, construction, agriculture, oil and gas, maritime and mining.

5. Prevent Harmful Exposures

Completely avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals is the best way to protect your health. Most workplace chemicals have not been tested for reproductive and developmental health effects and therefore, you cannot rely on legal limits as an assurance of protection. However, if you cannot avoid chemical exposure all together, there are a variety of ways to keep exposure as low as possible.

Safe Chemical Alternatives

The Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program (WRAPP) of the California Department of Public Health has published helpful fact sheets that provide employers and workers with information on work-related asthma and how to prevent asthma from disinfectants. See the fact sheet for employers and the fact sheet for workers in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Health Care Without Harm has a site dedicated to safer chemicals that includes links to a number of additional resources as well as information on a variety of safe alternative topics, such as green chemistry, alternatives to pesticides and safer disinfectants. Learn more here.

Practice Greenhealth is the source for environmental solutions for the healthcare sector and lends support to create better, safer, greener workplaces and communities. It is a nonprofit membership organization founded on the principles of positive environmental stewardship and best practices by organizations in the healthcare community.

Toolkit to Find Safer Products: This detailed toolkit provides information on how to bring safer chemicals into the workplace. Learn what to look out for and find healthier substitutes for existing products

The Lowell Center for Chemical Production aims to is to redefine environmentalism and occupational health and safety while also demonstrating how these concepts are compatible with new systems of production and consumption that are healthy for workers, environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially accountable.

The Institute for Research and Technical Assistance is a nonprofit organization that develops safer alternatives to toxic solvents and helps users reduce or eliminate their use of toxic solvents.  IRTA can help companies identify and demonstrate ways to prevent solvent pollution.

The University Of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, the Public Health Institute, and the California Department of Health Services, Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service collaborated to develop informational and guidance documents on safer alternatives to clean up solvents for lithographic printers. You can read their document here.

The Western Sustainability and Pollution Prevention Network also has a number of resources on safer alternatives to chemical solvents.

The National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance is working to raise the profile of salon worker health and safety issues, to connect and leverage the resources of concerned groups (including workers’ rights, labor, environmental and reproductive health and justice, and Asian Pacific Islander groups), to advocate that salon product manufactures reformulate and produce safer products, and to advocate for greater regulatory protection of salon workers.

The Boston Safe Nail Project aims to protect workers and the public from exposure to hazardous chemicals and air pollution in nail salons. Nail salon workers are exposed to an array of potentially hazardous compounds during nearly every service they provide. Safe Nail Salons will prevent or reduce disproportionate environmental and occupational health effects from the industry on workers and clients, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offers a webpage dedicated to health hazards in nail salons with important information about these hazards and the steps that nail salon workers and employers can take to prevent injuries and illnesses.

The Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS) is an occupational health program in the California Department of Public Health.  HESIS evaluates the dangers of chemicals in the workplace and develops practical information for workers.  Publications are available on their website, including fact sheets on specific chemicals and safer alternatives.

The California Department of Public Health has created a series of resources to help prevent worker illness from indoor pesticide exposure. Because workers and members of the public can become ill from pesticide use indoors, steps must be taken to eliminate or reduce human exposures. In data collected by the Occupational Pesticide Illness Prevention Program (OPIPP) from 1998-2009, nearly one out of five people who reported work-related pesticide illnesses were exposed to pesticides in indoor air.

Two independent organizations, EcoLogo and Green Seal, publish certification standards that define which attributes a safer cleaning product must have to receive their third-party approval.  The California Department of Public Health Occupational Health Branch participated in the development of cleaning product standards and successfully argued for the prohibition of ingredients known to cause allergic-type asthma. In addition, these EcoLogo and Green Seal criteria cover other health-based attributes, such as toxicity and corrosivity limits and the prohibition of carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, and some endocrine disruptors. Find out more here.

ChemHAT, the Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox, is a new internet database designed by workers to offer up easy to use information that other workers can use to protect themselves, their families and their co-workers against the harm that chemicals can cause.

Search for products that meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Label Standard. The EPA also provides a Safer Chemical Ingredients List.

The Washington State Department of Ecology provides useful information on Green Chemistry and product testing reports on toxic chemicals such as cadmium, lead, phthalates, parabens, and other chemicals found in children’s products.

The BizNGO Guide to Safer Chemicals is a how-to resource for managing chemicals in products, processes, and feedstocks for downstream users of chemicals. This practical, easy-to-use guide is intended to revolutionize the way companies are able to move away from hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. It is a resource of current and best practices of how organizations are implementing programs that advance safer alternatives to chemicals of high concern to human health or the environment.

Methylene chloride (dichloromethane) is a widely used solvent that can cause serious illness or death when used in enclosed spaces. It is a cancer-causing chemical used in paint strippers, in the production of polymer foams and as a degreaser. The Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health has developed a website with informational materials and other resources on methylene chloride to help employers, workers and consumers better understand the hazards and choose safer alternatives wherever possible.

Hesperian's Workers Guide to Health and Safety can help workers achieve healthier working conditions. Download the Spanish language training guide to help protect workers from chemical expsoures.

Lots of workplaces and individuals are looking for “green” or sustainable cleaning products. Unfortunately, the ingredients in many products still include sensitisers, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, caustic chemicals or persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances (PBTs). At the same time, it’s often confusing to figure out what will harm people and/or the environment. A Worksafe BC funded project, Tools for Informed Substitution: How Do You Find Safer Chemicals for the Workplace?ties together purchasing practices, health and safety committees and on-line databases that provide information about chemical hazards and informed substitutes for cleaning and other products.

6. Know Your Rights

Visit our Know Your Rights page to learn about your rights as a worker and find available resources.

Laws and Regulations in California

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), also known as Cal/OSHA, is a state agency that protects workers from safety hazards.  Cal/OSHA enforces safety and health standards for the workplace, investigating worker complaints and doing enforcement inspections.  Cal/OSHA also provides free consultations to employers to help prevent job-related injuries and illnesses.  California has some health and safety laws and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for chemicals that federal OSHA does not include.

Do you know your working rights? This document from Department of Industrial Relations Labor Enforcement Task Force covers the working rights granted to all workers in California. This includes information on wages, breaks, health, safety and benefits.

Health and SafetRights of California Workers: The Department of Industrial Relations brochure on health and safety rights of California workers. This includes the worker’s right to refuse hazardous work and the requirements for an employer’s injury and illness prevention program.

Temporary Agency Employees: A factsheet from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health provides information on worker’s rights for temporary agency employees. This factsheet outlines the rules and responsibilities of the worker, the primary employer and the host employer.

Worksafe is a California-based non-profit Legal Services Support organization that advises employment law and other legal aid groups about laws and rights related to health and safety on the job.

The Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center offers a toll-free Work & Family Helpline that provides free advice and counsel to over 1000 people per year about their rights under the various state and federal laws that deal with family and medical leave. The helpline number is 800-880-8047.

Laws Dealing With Job and Medical Rights While Pregnant