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Study explores contamination risk of shop towels

A recently released study reveals that workers in the manufacturing sector are being unwittingly exposed to a potential work injury/health hazard courtesy of a heavily utilized yet rather mundane tool: shop towels.

Researchers with Gradient, an environmental science consulting group, have determined that commercially laundered shop towels often contain elevated levels of certain metals, including metals found in the facilities were they were used and metals from outside facilities.

The study - entitled "Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels" - arrived at this conclusion by examining the data derived from shop towels taken and laundered from 26 different manufacturing companies here in the U.S.

"Manufacturers face an unexpected worker exposure issue: workers using just one or two shop towels a day may be exposed to elevated levels of heavy metals, compared to health-based exposure guidelines," said Barbara Beck, Ph.D. of Gradient. "Because towels are used and then laundered multiple times and are often delivered to different companies each time, workers may even be exposed to metals that do not otherwise exist in their work environment."

According to the researchers, the primary concern with this prolonged and constant exposure to metals is that it can eventually result in serious health problems.

This is significant because so many Americans are currently employed in the manufacturing sector, which includes everything from auto work and metal fabrication to food and beverage packaging. In fact, estimates from the National Association of Manufacturers indicate that 12 million Americans - nearly 9 percent of the workforce - are currently employed in the manufacturing industry.

Typically, employees use shop towels to wipe down equipment or clean their hands/faces. Unfortunately, if a commercially laundered towel retains metals, an employee using it for either one of these purposes can unknowingly transfer metals from their hands to their eyes and mouths.

Compounding this problem is the fact that these metals are invisible to the naked eye, have no smell and cannot be detected by touch.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of work injuries and workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

Study: Laundered shop towels may be contaminating workers (Occupational Health and Safety)

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