Protecting employers from formaldehyde exposure

(Editor's note: In a fact sheet, OSHA offers a summary of its formaldehyde standard. This is an excerpt. The complete fact sheet is available at www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/formaldehyde-factsheet.pdf.)

Airborne concentrations of formaldehyde above 0.1 ppm can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. The severity of irritation worsens as concentrations increase.

Some of the key provisions of the OSHA standard require employers do the following:

  • Identify all employees who may be exposed to formaldehyde at or above the action level or STEL (short-term exposure limit) through initial monitoring and determine their exposure.
  • Reassign employees who suffer significant adverse effects from formaldehyde exposure to jobs with significantly less or no exposure until their condition improves. Reassignment protection can continue for up to six months until the employee is determined able to return to the original job or unable to return to work — whichever comes first.
  • Implement engineering and work practice controls to reduce and maintain employee exposure to formaldehyde at or below the eight-hour TWA (time-weighted average) and the STEL. If these controls cannot reduce exposure to or below the PELs (permissible exposure limits), you must provide your employees with respirators.
  • Label all mixtures or solutions composed of greater than 0.1% 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 employees exposed to formaldehyde concentrations of 0.1 ppm or greater at the time of the 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. Ensure that employees use this equipment 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 employees 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 employees exposed to formaldehyde in emergencies.