Exposure to a variety of occupational risks may cause serious damage before pregnancy, during pregnancy, during infancy, and during the remainder of the individual’s life. Before conception, the future father may be exposed to estrogens, heat stress, lead, ionizing radiation, carbon disulfide, pesticides, vinyl chloride, etc., and this may lead to changes in genetic material causing birth defects. Before conception, future mothers may be exposed to ionizing radiation, carbon monoxide, ethylene glycol ethers, solvents, lead, mercury, pesticides, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, carbon disulfide, chlorinated hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, vinyl chloride, etc., and this may lead to changes in genetic material causing birth defects.

As an example, pesticide exposure before or during pregnancy may cause an increased risk of death of the fetus, spontaneous abortion, and/or early childhood cancer. Pesticides may also cause premature birth, retardation of the growth of the fetus, low birth weight, and congenital malformations.

Four major occupational hazards during pregnancy include:

  • 1. Chemical risks discussed above
  • 2. Physical agents such as x-rays, gamma rays, noise, heat, pressure, and extreme cold
  • 3. Biological agents such as HIV, rubella, hepatitis viruses, etc.
  • 4. Strenuous physical labor such as prolonged standing, heavy lifting, twisting of the body, staying in one position for an extended period of time, etc.

Occupational exposure can occur during the growth and development of the infant. The exposure may occur through the use of breast milk when the mother is exposed to PCBs, polybrominated biphenyls, pesticides, organic solvents, mercury, lead, methylene chloride, etc., and transfers the chemicals in the fluid to the infant. There is a potential for exposure from the parents’ clothing which may transfer industrial chemicals, pesticides, fibers, metal dust, and microbiological agents brought home from the workplace. For the work-at-home parent or hobbyist, there is the potential for the transfer of a vast number of contaminants to the infant.

Child labor can create an immediate and far-reaching problem. Hazardous work includes agriculture, factories, difficult service areas such as heavy domestic work, and construction, scavenging, or recycling. Children are more susceptible to hazards than adults. They are subjected to: mechanical hazards such as falling, being caught between objects or equipment, and being cut or burned; biological hazards such as insects, exposure to bacteria, viruses and parasites, and dangerous animals; chemical hazards such as dangerous gases, liquids, dusts, solvents, explosives, flammable, or corrosive materials, etc.

Their lack of physical and mental maturity may cause them to take unnecessary risks, misjudge situations, ignore appropriate safety considerations, etc. They also are more susceptible to a variety of chemical, physical, and biological agents. They may not be able to use appropriately personal protective equipment that was designed for adults. Poorly designed working environments, lifting and carrying heavy and bulky loads, driving or using machinery, or repetitive motion can lead to short-term and chronic injuries. They are less able to cope with extremes in temperature, noise, vibration, and radiation. Stress and continuous monotonous work may cause them to become less observant and more susceptible to injuries.

Children frequently receive injuries from cuts, fractures, burns, scalds, and insect and animal bites, and trauma to the soft tissues or skeletal system. These injuries may be temporary in nature or may cause long-lasting chronic effects in later life. Drowning is also a concern in the occupational environment for children.

Poisoning is a frequent problem of the children’s occupational environment. They are exposed to cleaning solutions, volatile solvents, and pesticides/fertilizers. They may be poisoned through inhalation, ingestion, or contact with the skin or eyes.

Chronic exposures which may affect children as adults include:

  • • Hearing loss at a young age due to excessive noise
  • • Contact dermatitis from exposure to corrosive/irritant substances, excessive cold or heat and humidity
  • • Infectious and parasitic diseases which may either reoccur or have a chronic aftermath
  • • Respiratory diseases from exposure to dust, nitrous fumes, phosphorus dust, silica, coal, asbestos, etc.
  • • Neurological effects from lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, etc.
  • • Anemia from lead, benzene and malnutrition from lack of food or poor eating habits
  • • Cancer from a vast variety of exposures to carcinogens either separately or in combination (See endnote 48)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that from 1998 to 2007, a total of 5719 younger workers died from occupational injuries and an estimated 7.9 million non-fatal injuries to younger workers were serious enough for the individuals to have to go to the emergency room of a hospital. (See endnote 47.)

Best Practices for the Occupational Environment (See endnote 49)

  • • Train medical personnel how to determine the effects of occupational and environmental conditions on the individual and the possible cause or causes of the problem.
  • • Learn to identify specific hazardous situations, estimate patient’s exposure and obtain professional help from occupational health experts.
  • • Plan pregnancies if possible so that the future father and future mother will not be exposed to occupational problems that can affect the fetus or child.
  • • Evaluate past histories of individuals who had occupational exposures and other exposures to harmful substances and advise them concerning current working conditions.
  • • Determine the amount and type of potential exposures or actual exposures to substances that may harm children in the workplace.
  • • Do appropriate blood analysis to determine lead levels, pesticide exposure, etc.
  • • Determine if children work with hazardous equipment in agriculture.
  • • Determine the amount and type of cleaning agents used in occupational areas, schools, homes, etc.
  • • Determine the amount and type of pesticides that are applied to lawns, farms, buildings, etc.
  • • Avoid the use of benzene by children.
  • • Determine if children are exposed to biological hazards.
  • • If there is a severe problem or potential problem from occupational exposure, reduce the time spent in the area or change jobs temporarily or permanently.
  • • Reduce potential exposure to chemicals in breast milk by removing the individual from areas where there may be contamination from PCBs, polybrominated biphenyls, organic solvents, pesticides, methylene chloride, phthalates, perchloroethylene, mercury, and lead.
  • • Change clothing at the occupational setting in a clean area before leaving the premises to keep from contaminating vehicles and the home setting if there are children present.
  • • Use special training materials to make sure the young people understand the best approach to various situations and the occupational environment. (See endnote 50.)
  • • Avoid sprains and strains by using appropriate techniques and equipment to lift heavy or bulky items.
  • • Avoid cuts, bruises, and fractures by keeping all work place spaces neat and by removing all slick materials from floors.
  • • Stabilize ladders before utilizing them.
  • • Follow instructions carefully when utilizing and working around cleaning and disinfecting material, pesticides, fertilizers, and all other chemicals.
  • • Provide direct supervision for all children working in various occupational areas.
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