When people in Philadelphia think of workplace accidents, they may naturally call to mind catastrophic events that cause significant injuries and deaths. Factory explosions, construction site collapses and chemical spills all fall into that category. But there are other workplace dangers that can go unnoticed for a time and only become apparent when their cumulative effects reveal themselves through troubling physical symptoms.

Many industrial applications require the use of caustic and harmful chemicals, while we have previously mentioned that some manufacturing processes can produce fine particulate dust that can impair long-term lung function and shorten workers’ lives. Employees affected by exposure to toxic chemicals may be entitled to workers’ compensation.

But what about hair and beauty salons? On the surface, they seem like one of the last places a worker might expect to receive a workplace illness or injury. But one interest group is pulling back the curtain on that industry, and what lies behind it is not particularly pleasant. In order to make hair defy the wind and gravity or take on new colors, salon workers are exposed to an array of chemicals for hours each day.

Many of the substances have the potential to damage employees’ reproductive systems, induce breathing problems and even cause cancer. One byproduct of the hair treatment called the Brazilian Blowout is formaldehyde gas, a known carcinogen. Some employees have complained of bloody noses, rashes and headaches. Many salons are small spaces with poor ventilation, compounding the problem of chemical exposure.

Some groups are pushing for greater monitoring of the salon industry in addition to the removal of toxic products from the workplace. There is a piece of federal legislation that would provide regulations, but whether it will become law is not known.

Source: Huffington Post, “Workplace Toxins Reveal the Beauty Industry’s Ugly Side,” Michelle Chen, June 19, 2012.