Bringing Work Home: 3 Pathways Work Hazards Can Impact the Home Environment

A worker with a grinder wearing protective gear.

A worker with a grinder wearing protective gear.

When we think about the effects of hazardous workplaces, we often draw an imaginary border between a person’s job and their home life.

But a new Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene paper co-authored by Igor Burstyn, PhD, an associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health, questions that division and points out that it might be masking other layers of potentially harmful exposure.

Along with Rachael M. Jones, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Burstyn laid out three different “pathways” through which occupational hazards could travel home and expose others.

“Take-home workplace exposures are one example of why the absence of healthy work is a problem for public health at large, not just occupational health,” Jones and Burstyn wrote.

Below, we go through the three pathways and provide some examples of them:

  • External Contamination

This could occur when someone leaves their workplace with some kind of hazard on their skin, clothes, or in other items they take home, like their car. Exposure would occur through contact between the person carrying the hazard back from work and someone at home, like a family member.

Example: A baker coming home from their job with flour in their clothes and transferring that flour in hugs with their children. Inhaling particles like flour can create issues with the lungs.

  • Internal Dose

A hazardous agent can enter a worker’s body on their job and then be present in some of their bodily fluids — like blood or breast milk — which can then expose family members at home.

Example: People who installed carpet that contained polybromated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a flame retardant, have been found to have higher levels of the chemical in their bodies. That chemical can then be transferred via breast milk to nursing babies, putting them at risk for issues with brain development that are suspected to be caused by PBDE.

  • Behavior Change

Stressors at work can be considered a workplace hazard. And when a worker experiences a lot of workplace stress that causes them to change the way they react or behave emotionally, that can carry over to the home environment.

Example: A reporter at a newspaper with layoffs looming who works a high-stress crime beat might exhibit a quick temper or depressive symptoms that might influence their social interactions toward their family.

Media interested in speaking with Burstyn can contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or

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