Workplace Hazards and Reproductive Health

Armen Hareyan's picture

Many factors can contribute to producing healthy children. It is well known that the health of an unborn child can suffer if a woman fails to eat right, smokes, or drinks alcohol during pregnancy. It is not well known, however, that a man's exposure to substances in the workplace can affect his ability to have healthy children.

What Are Reproductive Hazards?

Substances that affect the ability to have healthy children are called reproductive hazards.

Radiation, many chemicals, drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, and heat are examples of reproductive hazards.

What Reproductive Hazards Exist in the Workplace?

A number of workplace substances such as lead and radiation have been identified as reproductive hazards for men (see Table 1). However, there is no complete list of reproductive hazards in the workplace. Scientists are just beginning to understand how these hazards affect the male reproductive system. Although more than 1,000 workplace chemicals have been shown to have reproductive effects on animals, most have not been studied in humans. In addition, most of the 4 million other chemical mixtures in commercial use remain untested.

Although studies have found that workplace exposures affect the reproductive system in some men, these effects do not necessarily occur in every worker. Whether individuals are affected depends on how much of the hazard they are exposed to, how long they are exposed, how they are exposed, and other personal factors.


Reproductive issues are likely to receive more attention in the future because they are included in the National Occupational Research Agenda coordinated by NIOSH. As one of the 21 topics included in the Agenda, research on reproductive issues will undoubtedly increase nationwide. For copies of the Agenda, contact NIOSH at 1-800-356-4674.

How Are Workers Exposed?

Harmful substances can enter the body by inhalation, contact with the skin, or ingestion (if workers do not properly wash their hands before eating, drinking, or smoking).

Can A Worker Expose His Family To These Hazards?

Workplace substances that affect male workers may also indirectly cause harm to their families. Certain substances unintentionally brought home by a worker may affect a woman's reproductive system or the health of an unborn child. For example, lead brought home from the workplace on a worker's skin, hair, clothes, shoes, tool box, or car can cause severe lead poisoning among family members and can cause neurobehavioral and growth effects in a fetus.


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