Stressed at work? Deep breathing could be the answer—unless, of course, you’re exposed to a dangerous chemical in the air. Is breathing risky in your work environment?
Formaldehyde is a danger that many Stericycle customers face.
OSHA is so concerned about the work hazard called formaldehyde that it developed a separate standard called the Formaldehyde Safety Standard (29 CFR 1910.48). This Standard was the second-most cited (after bloodborne pathogens) for OSHA violations at both hospitals and funeral service operations. For dentist offices, violations of the Formaldehyde Standard occurred third most frequently (after the Bloodborne Pathogens and Hazard Communications Standard).
Work Environments With Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde, in its most common form as an ingredient in formalin, is used in various work and school settings including:
- Hospitals and medical laboratories as a preservative and disinfectant.
- Funeral homes for embalming.
- Manufacturing as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant.
- Science classrooms when handling specimens.
Other Names for Formaldehyde or Formaldehyde Solutions
On labels, formaldehyde or solutions with formaldehyde may also appear as: formalin, formic aldehyde, paraform, formol, fyde, formalith, methanal, methyl aldehyde, methylene glycol, methylene oxide, tetraoxymethalene, oxomethane, and oxymethylene.
Risks to People
Airborne formaldehyde concentrations of 20 ppm or greater are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). Acute exposure to formaldehyde, which is a vapor at room temperature, can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. It can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, such as coughing and wheezing, at concentrations of 0.1 ppm. Subsequent exposure can cause severe allergic reactions. Even with low levels in the air, long-term exposure can cause asthma-like respiratory problems. Formaldehyde is also a skin irritant and a cancer-causing agent.
What Employers Must Do
Employers are required to identify all employees who may be exposed to formaldehyde. Among other technical requirements, employers must:
- Monitor the level of exposure to formaldehyde and notify workers of the findings.
- Choose, provide, and maintain protective clothing and equipment based upon the form of formaldehyde to be encountered, the conditions of use, and the hazard to be prevented.
- Provide training and annual retraining of workers exposed to greater than 0.1 ppm formaldehyde.
- Label any solution that contains greater than 0.1% formaldehyde.
- Reassign workers who suffer severe adverse effects.
- If employees' skin may become splashed with solutions containing 1% or greater formaldehyde, for example, because of equipment failure or improper work practices, the employer is required to provide conveniently located quick drench showers and assure that affected employees use those facilities immediately. If there is any possibility that an employee’s eyes may be splashed with solutions containing 0.1 % or greater formaldehyde, the employer shall provide acceptable eyewash facilities within the immediate work area for emergency use.
- Provide workers with respirators, if engineering and work practice controls cannot maintain minimal levels defined by OSHA in the Standard by the Permissible Exposure Limit of 0.75 ppm Time Weighted Average, an average over an 8 hour work day of less than a single part per million. Such required use of respirators also triggers full compliance with the Respiratory Protection Standard 1910.134.
- Provide medical surveillance for all workers exposed to formaldehyde at concentrations at or above the action level (0.5 ppm 8-hour TWA) or exceeding the STEL (2.0 ppm for 15 minutes), for those who develop signs and symptoms of overexposure, and for all workers exposed to formaldehyde in emergencies.
- Keep exposure records for 30 years.
- Keep medical records for 30 years after employment ends.
- Allow current and former employees (or their designated representative) access to medical and exposure records.
For complete information, visit the OSHA website. Your state may have more stringent requirements.