Dr. Hans-Peter Fröhlich, what are the frequently underestimated risks of handling hazardous substances in the workplace?
Dr. Hans-Peter Fröhlich: The risks generally depend on the respective hazardous materials. That is why it is crucial to be informed about the situation in the workplace, starting with the proper labeling of hazardous substances. The question becomes: What can I learn from these labels and informational elements? This enables you to assess the risks of hazardous materials. However, oftentimes the person who handles the hazardous substances does not always know how these may cause harm to his/her health, thus he/she may underestimate the risks.
Pumping gas is a real-life example: Most of us pump our own gas at the gas station to fill up our cars. Sometimes we spill some gas on our hands. Many people might not know that petrol contains benzene, which is classified as a carcinogenic substance, which means we should be very careful. And that's my point: You must stay informed about the substances you come across in everyday life and at work.
What has changed in the workplace over the past few years as it pertains to handling hazardous materials?
Fröhlich: It is encouraging that there is more available information – including communications provided by the DGUV (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung/German Social Accident Insurance). These days, people know more about handling hazardous materials safely, such as asbestos for example. Asbestos poses serious health risks and was often shoveled by hand in the past. Today, asbestos is banned (in the EU), but it is still present. Over the years, information regarding the health hazards of asbestos has increased. We know more about the dangers and have instituted the corresponding measures to handle the hazardous substance. There have been major changes as it pertains to the handling of hazardous materials.