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Toxic exposure risks for dry cleaners

Being exposed to toxic chemicals -- over and over again -- puts workers at risk for serious health complications. Employers should know this and should be taking certain precautions to limit exposure. Unfortunately, though, this is not always the case, and employees end up suffering.

One such industry where many workers tend to be at risk for exposure is the dry cleaning industry. To try to combat this risk, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, more widely known as OSHA, has put together an informational guide for dry cleaning establishments. The hope is that if more establishments follow the advice in this guide, there will be less worker exposure to perchloroethylene.

Perchloroethylene, or perc, is the most commonly used solvent in the dry cleaning industry. However, while the solvent is highly effective, too much exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness and coordination issues. After several years of exposure, reaction time, memory and visual perception can also be affected.

The OSHA guide also goes on to say there is some evidence connecting long-term exposure to perc and certain types of cancers.

The good news is that there are steps establishments can take to reduce overall exposure. These include regular maintenance of equipment, the use of equipment that is more modern, proper ventilation and having good workplace practices aimed at keeping employees healthy and reducing exposure.

Of course, just because the guidance is out there, it does not mean that all establishments will take heed. And, even in cases where establishments are doing their best to reduce exposure, some workers may still end up affected by perc.

Toxic exposure, such as illness due to perc exposure, is never OK. Luckily, workers do have rights, including the right to seek compensation for injuries and illnesses related to their jobs. An employer does not need to be found responsible in order for a worker to seek workers' compensation. However, if there is reason to believe the employer is to blame, it may also be possible to try to hold them liable.

These types of cases can get quite complicated, though, which is why workers are strongly encouraged to seek legal representation.

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