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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard that protects workers exposed to formaldehyde applies “to all occupational exposures to formaldehyde from formaldehyde gas, its solutions and materials that release formaldehyde,” according to the federal agency.
Here are some highlights, according to OSHA documents:
• Manufacturers must include information about formaldehyde and its hazards on the label if there is 0.1% or more formaldehyde in the product or if the product releases formaldehyde above 0.1 parts of formaldehyde per 1 million parts of air.
• The label must include “the name and address of the manufacturer, importer or other company responsible for the product and a statement that the employer and the material safety data sheet can readily give health hazard information.” The data sheet must include “common ways that people are exposed to the product and its hazardous ingredients...and what protective equipment to wear and what to do in an emergency.”
• If employers decide to use a product containing formaldehyde, they must test the air to determine the level of formaldehyde in the air when using the product. The standard specifies a permissible average maximum exposure limit to formaldehyde in the air, measured over eight hours, and a 15-minute maximum exposure limit. If exposure levels exceed a certain point called “the action level,” employers must identify workers exposed and reassign workers “who suffer significant adverse effects..until their condition improves.” If changing work practices and conditions can't reduce permissible exposure levels, workers must be provided with respirators.
• Workers must be trained when first assigned to work with products containing more than 0.1% of formaldehyde and retrained annually.
• Personal protective equipment—such as “impervious clothing, gloves, aprons and chemical splash goggles”— must be provided. If splashing is likely, showers and eyewash stations must be provided.
• Medical exams must be provided if workers are exposed to formaldehyde beyond permissible levels and for those who develop “signs and symptoms of overexposure.”
Finally, employers are required to keep records of worker exposure and “allow access to medical and exposure records to current and former workers or their designated representatives,” according to OSHA.
Although beauty salons and mortuaries have drawn the most citations and fines for violating the federal exposure standard for formaldehyde among smaller companies, employer awareness of the hazards of this carcinogenic chemical and the details of complying with the standard vary widely in these two predominantly middle-market industries.