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Recognize the hazards of formaldehyde


Widely known as a preservative in morgues, formaldehyde – a colorless, strong-smelling gas – can be found in chemicals, plywood and various household items, including glue and paper product coatings, according to OSHA. It’s also used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant.

Exposure to formaldehyde can occur through inhalation (gas or vapor) or skin absorption (liquid). Formaldehyde can cause cancer, OSHA says. Acute exposure also is highly irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, and “long-term exposure to low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching.” Ingestion can cause death.

OSHA’s formaldehyde standard (29 CFR 1910.1048) states that the permissible exposure limit in the workplace is 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average, with an action level of 0.5 ppm when calculated as an 8-hour TWA. The standard also includes a short-term exposure limit of 2 ppm – the maximum exposure allowed during a 15-minute period.

The provisions of the OSHA standard require employers to:

  • Clearly label all mixtures composed of greater than 0.1% formaldehyde.
  • Educate workers who are exposed to formaldehyde concentrations of 0.1 ppm or greater on the dangers associated with it.
  • Identify workers who may be exposed to formaldehyde at or above the action level or short-term exposure limit through initial monitoring, and determine their exposure.
  • Reassign workers who experience significant adverse effects.
  • Provide and maintain all necessary personal protective equipment.
  • 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.

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