The risks of genetic effects to health in the workplace are difficult to detect. Exposure of men and women to different chemicals over a long period of time can cause serious birth defects to their unborn children. The effects of this exposure are often difficult to detect immediately, and so therefore, we should be increasingly aware of the risks which are present in daily working life.
Several substances used at work are suspected of causing damage to both the egg cells in women and the sperm cells in men, and thereby the unborn child. Even diesel fumes may cause genetic damage.
The human body is built up of cells. Most of the cells in our bodies are continually being renewed, a process which consists of old cells dying and being replaced by new cells. The composition of each cell is fixed. It has a specific genetic structure (chromosomes and genes). Genes are the units that transmit hereditary characteristics from the parents to the child.
The genes are arranged on the chromosomes and there is a fixed number in every cell. It is the cells, with their chromosomes and genes, which can be damaged if the worker whether male or female absorbs too much of a dangerous chemical into the body. The effects of this can be miscarriage, the foetus does not go the full term in the mother or can lead to deformation or illness in the child or grandchild. Some examples of chemicals which can cause deformities in unborn children include lead, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene.
It should be remembered that the dangers involved in using these substances depend on the way they are used, the amount of the substance used, and the length of time that the individual worker is exposed to them. Another factor to remember is that these substances may be combined with others. It is important not to use petrol or turpentine when cleaning your hands at work, for example. You should use ordinary soap and water in order to avoid genetic injuries.