The failure to
properly train employees on hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde is the second
most frequently cited violation in healthcare facilities across the US. In fact, fines as much as $112,000 have been
issued by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to
healthcare facilities for the failure to provide employees with the proper
formaldehyde training and monitoring. (2)
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a
potent, colorless gas that is commonly used in hospitals, medical laboratories,
dental offices, and pediatric practices as a preservative, sterilizer, and disinfectant.
It is also used for manufacturing purposes, funeral homes for embalming, and is
found in a number of household products such as paper towels, shampoo, deodorant,
toothpaste, lipstick, nail polish, and glue.
What are the risks
associated with exposure to formaldehyde?
Exposure to high
levels of formaldehyde should be avoided if possible, as it may trigger severe
allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, respiratory
irritation, headaches, watery/burning eyes. Formaldehyde is a skin irritant, a
cancer-causing agent, and if ingested can be fatal. According to the Department
of Health and Human Services (DHHS), formaldehyde may “reasonably be
anticipated to be a carcinogen”.
What should employers
know about formaldehyde?
The OSHA Formaldehyde
standard (29 CFR 1910.1048) protects workers exposed to formaldehyde.
- The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for formaldehyde in the workplace
is 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) measured as an
8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
- The standard includes a second PEL in the form of a short-term
exposure limit (STEL) of 2 ppm which is the maximum exposure allowed during a
- The action level – which is the standard’s trigger for increased
industrial hygiene monitoring and initiation of worker medical surveillance – is
0.5 ppm when calculated as an 8-hour TWA.
What must employers
do to protect workers from formaldehyde exposure?
OSHA has very
specific regulations on the monitoring, training and protection of workers who
are exposed to formaldehyde. Some key
provisions of the OSHA standard require employers to do the following (1):
- Identify all workers who may be exposed to formaldehyde at or above
the action level or STEL and determine their exposure. Reassign workers who
have significant adverse effects from formaldehyde exposure to jobs with
significantly less or no exposure until their condition improves. Reassignment
may continue for up to 6 months until the worker is determined to be able to
return to the original job or to be unable to return to work – whichever comes
- Implement feasible engineering and work practice controls to reduce
and maintain worker exposure to formaldehyde at or below the 8-hour TWA and the
STEL. If these controls cannot reduce exposure to or below the PELs, employers
must provide workers with respirators.
- Label all mixtures or solutions composed of greater than 0.1 percent
formaldehyde and materials capable of releasing formaldehyde into the air at
concentrations reaching or exceeding 0.1 ppm. For all materials capable of releasing
formaldehyde at levels above 0.5 ppm during normal use, the label must contain
the words “potential cancer hazard.”
- Train all workers exposed to formaldehyde concentrations of 0.1 ppm or
greater at the time of initial job assignment and whenever a new exposure to formaldehyde
is introduced into the work area. Repeat training annually.
- Select, provide and maintain appropriate personal protective equipment
(PPE). Ensure that workers use PPE such as impervious clothing, gloves, aprons,
and chemical splash goggles to prevent skin and eye contact with formaldehyde.
- Provide showers and eyewash stations if splashing is likely.
- Provide medical surveillance for all workers exposed to formaldehyde
at concentrations at or above the action level or exceeding the STEL, for those
who develop signs and symptoms of overexposure, and for all workers exposed to
formaldehyde in emergencies. (1)
required to do the following regarding worker exposure records:
- Retain exposure records for 30 years.
- Retain medical records for 30 years after employment ends.
- Allow access to medical and exposure records to current and former
workers or their designated representatives upon request. (1)
For more information
on this, visit OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov.
For information on
formaldehyde training, contact the experts at MedSafe at 1-888-MEDSAFE or visit
our website at www.medsafe.com.
- OSHA Fact
Sheet: Formaldehyde. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/formaldehyde-factsheet.html
- Top 10
Most Frequently Cited Standards. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/Top_Ten_Standards.html