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Could banning paper receipts improve worker safety?

When people think about toxic chemicals and exposure risks on the job, they often think of industrial or constructions jobs where people come into contact with known hazardous materials like asbestos.

However, working in retail as a cashier could also pose a threat to worker safety. This is because handling paper receipts can increase a person's exposure to chemicals that may cause serious illnesses, including cancer. As such, there is now greater push than ever to ban paper receipts.

Knowing the risks

The recent study found that handling paper receipts for just 17 minutes significantly increases a person's exposure to two harmful chemicals: bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol S (BPS). These chemicals have both reportedly been linked to reproductive issues, while studies link BPA to prostate and breast cancer and BPS to hormonal disruption.

BPA and BPS is found on the printed sides of thermal paper receipts, which are widely used. 

Protecting yourself

If you regularly handle printed receipts, there are some precautions you can take to protect yourself from any adverse consequences of exposure. There are also important steps employers can take to protect workers.

As an individual, avoid handling the printed sides of receipts. Instead, fold receipts and keep the printed side inside, which can help as the backs of these receipts typically do not get coated in bisphenols.

You should also refrain from using hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers could actually increase the absorption of bisphenols, which is why it would be best to regularly wash your hands before, during and after a shift.

Employers can also protect workers from potentially harmful occupational exposure. One solution would be to use bisphenol-free thermal paper. Employers can also offer e-receipts to customers, avoiding paper receipts altogether. If neither of these is a viable solution, employers can provide protective gloves to cashiers.

Occupational exposure to toxic materials can do a great deal of damage to a person's health. As such, it is crucial for people to understand the risks and take steps to protect workers. Often, it is much easier to prevent an illness than to treat it, so being proactive can be essential.

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