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Workplace Precautions Reduce Poison Exposures at Home

  • Published
  • 18 March 2024
  • Category
  • General

In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week, we’re sharing recommendations on ways to reduce exposures to potentially hazardous materials carried offsite from workplaces.

Precautions need to be taken to prevent employees from unintentionally carrying potentially hazardous substances found in workplaces to offsite locations on their clothing, shoes, skin or tools. Incidents involving offsite exposure to toxins and other poisonous materials may be referred to as take-home toxins, para-occupational exposure or worker home contamination.

Beyond concerns about protecting the health and safety of employees, their family members and the general public, employers may be found liable for offsite exposures to hazardous materials, including chemicals and pesticides, molds and other allergens, and even contagious viruses. Courts have ruled that employers have a duty of care to members of a worker’s household.

At-risk populations include pregnant women, infants and young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems, certain skin sensitivities, allergies or asthma. Sometimes the connection between a workplace and home exposure is not obvious because it involves a common complaint such as throat irritation, a headache or skin rash. In addition, physical and cognitive symptoms may appear within hours, days, weeks or even years later depending on the nature and extent of exposure.

Exposure Prevention

Consistent application of the hierarchy of controls helps reduce occupational exposure risk at the source, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The hierarchy of controls is a familiar model – an inverted pyramid with elimination of physical hazards at the top and use of personal protective equipment at the bottom, with substitution, engineering and administration controls in the middle tiers.

To reduce exposure risk, employers are advised to:

  • Observe workplace practices and environmental conditions, in general.
  • Determine the type, level, duration and frequency of workplace exposures.
  • Identify existing and potential take-home health hazard risks generated at work.
  • List all controls that are in effect to address potential onsite and offsite exposure risks.
  • Evaluate the adequacy and effectiveness of controls; adjust accordingly.

If a hazardous substance is detected in a vehicle or home, then it’s likely to be in other places where the employee has visited, such as shops, day care centers, schools and fitness facilities. In such cases, it’s advisable to consult with an occupational health physician, safety professional or industrial hygienist to determine how to remediate the hazard at the point of origin and wherever an offsite exposure may have occurred. An after-action investigation may be used to review and develop protective measures.

Other ways to help prevent and manage offsite exposures include the following:

  1. Ensure worksite protocols are followed for disposal or safe removal and cleaning of contaminated clothing, gloves, headwear, shoes, and other gear and tools.
  2. Review applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worker-protection regulations. A higher level of protection than required may be warranted for certain activities.
  3. Understand existing health risks, potential routes of exposure such as inhalation, dermal absorption and ingestion, containment strategies and exposure response guidelines.
  4. As feasible, provide showers and storage lockers at work. If potentially contaminated work clothes are worn or taken home, advise employees not to hang them where they might be touched by household members, especially children. Do not co-mingle or wash work clothing with family laundry. Boots and tools should be kept in a separate location and safely cleaned on a regular basis.

For health care personnel, key components of an effective infection control program include pre-exposure immunization with vaccines; adherence to standard precautions such as hand hygiene; rapid evaluation and isolation precautions; proper use of PPE such as masks, N95 respirators, eye protection and gowns; and evaluation of personnel with exposure to communicable diseases for receipt of post-exposure intervention.


According to public health officials, effective decontamination depends on the cleaning methods used, the material to be removed and the surfaces to be cleaned. Soft materials such as carpet and clothing are the hardest to decontaminate. Pesticides and lead, asbestos and beryllium particles are especially difficult to remove, experts say.

Normal household cleaning methods are often not sufficient to eliminate an exposure hazard. In some cases, decontamination may increase the hazard to people in the home by stirring materials into the air. Clean-up guidelines should be strictly followed.


To learn more, here are some recommended resources:

  1. Eliminating Take-Home Exposures: Recognizing the Role of Occupational Health and Safety in Broader Community Health, Annals of Work Exposures and Health, 64(3) April 2020.
  2. Exposure Assessment Tools by Lifestages and Populations – Occupational Workers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  3. Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, a non-profit organization that supports a holistic approach to home health and energy-efficient needs.
  4. Poison Help: Prevention Tips, Health Resources & Services Administration.

WorkCare’s occupational physicians have education and training in toxicology and industry-specific hazardous material handling standards. Contact us at to learn more.