Abstract Background Throughout the United States, low-wage, minority workers are disproportionately affected by occupational illnesses and injuries. Chronic exposure to hazardous chemicals at work can lead to serious illnesses, contributing to health inequities. In this article, we expand on theories of ‘responsibilization’ in an occupational health context to reveal how responsibilities for workplace chemical exposures are negotiated by workers and owners in Latinx-owned small businesses. Methods We conducted semi-structured interviews with a total of 22 workers and owners in auto repair shops and beauty salons – two high-risk industries – in Southern Metropolitan Tucson. Participants were asked about their insights into workplace chemical exposures and health. A qualitative analysis team with representation from all study partner organizations collectively coded and reviewed the interview data in QSR International’s NVivo 11 and identified overarching themes across the interviews. Results We identified three primary themes: 1) ambivalence toward risks in the workplace; 2) shifting responsibilities for exposure protection at work; and 3) reflections on the system behind chemical exposure risks. Participants discussed the complexities that small businesses face in reducing chemical exposures. Conclusions Through our analysis of the interviews, we examine how neoliberal occupational and environmental policies funnel responsibility for controlling chemical exposures down to individuals in small businesses with limited resources, obscuring the power structures that maintain environmental health injustices. We conclude with a call for upstream policy changes that more effectively regulate and hold accountable the manufacturers of chemical products used daily by small business workers.
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