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Radium Girls: A Cautionary Tale of Chemical Safety

While browsing through Netflix recently, a movie titled Radium Girls caught my attention. It's the story of how workers painting watch dials with radium paint suffered from radiation poisoning resulting in lost teeth, ulcers, lesions, and weakened bones ultimately leading to their death.

The movie focuses on the aftermath of the workers discovering the hazards of the paint and their employer withholding this information from them. Even though the movie doesn't spend a lot of screen time on the working conditions at the factory or the symptoms of radiation poisoning, the pain and suffering that these workers had to live with is felt throughout the whole movie. Your heart breaks as you feel their despair when they realize their future has been ruined.

It's worth watching to learn about history, the bravery of these women, and the legacy they created in labor law and radiation safety. But that's not the only reason why we're writing about this movie.

Key Takeaway - Pay Attention to Chemical Safety

The Radium Girls are one example highlighting the importance of chemical safety in the workplace. Through occupational health and safety laws and grassroots activism, chemical safety has greatly improved since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. However, there is still room for improvement. Chemical safety-related citations continue to be one of the top frequently cited violations, per Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) statistics.

What Can Be Done?

Workers must understand how to safely work with the chemicals they use and understand the hazards associated with these chemicals. This can be achieved through multiple ways:

  • Implement a Hazard Communication Program and train employees on the hazards of the chemicals in the workplace and how to prevent exposure to these chemicals.

  • Perform a hazard assessment for new processes and new chemicals introduced to the workplace.

  • Ensure chemicals are properly labeled and legible at all times.

  • Ensure chemicals are properly stored and incompatible chemicals are separated.

  • Ensure safety data sheets (SDSs) are accessible to all employees.

  • Ensure equipment for exposure control (e.g., fume hoods, exhaust ventilation) are always in proper working condition.

  • Ensure employees have access to appropriate personal protective equipment for the work that they do.

  • Ensure employees understand emergency response procedures in case of accidental exposure to a chemical or a spill of a chemical.

Safety Nest has the experience and expertise to guide you on your chemical safety concerns; feel free to contact us at for assistance.


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