Formaldehyde is a regulated chemical by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 29 CFR 1910.1048. Meharry Medical College further regulates formaldehyde use by their Formaldehyde Safety Policy [link pending]. The purpose of the MMC Formaldehyde policy is to ensure hazards associated with formaldehyde use are anticipated, recognized, evaluated, and controlled and also that information concerning these hazards is communicated to affected employees.
There are several health effects both chronic and acute that can result from exposure to formaldehyde. Acute exposure to formaldehyde in the range of 0.1 ppm to 3 ppm can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, with shortness of breath, cough, and chest tightness occurring in the range of 10-20 ppm. Chronic exposure to formaldehyde can lead to sensitization, asthma-like respiratory problems, dermatitis, and in some cases, cancer. Due to the above acute and chronic symptoms that can occur with exposure to formaldehyde, both the OSHA action level for formaldehyde monitoring and the best workplace practices when working with formaldehyde are designed to keep potential formaldehyde exposures below the level where we would expect to see acute or chronic symptoms.
Exposure monitoring is required for work areas where the concentration of formaldehyde exceeds the OSHA Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) or Action Level (AL). Representative sampling will be performed in order to determine which work activities fall within this scope. EHS will conduct initial exposure monitoring for employees who may be exposed at or above the STEL or AL. Initial monitoring will be repeated each time there is a change in production, equipment, personnel, or control measures which may result in new or additional exposure to formaldehyde. If an employee exhibits signs and symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, EHS will promptly monitor the affected employee’s exposure. Periodic monitoring will be conducted for those employees with initial monitoring results at or above the STEL or AL. If the last monitoring results reveal employee exposure at or above the AL or STEL, EHS will repeat monitoring at least every six months. Periodic monitoring will be discontinued if the results from two consecutive sampling periods show that the employee exposure is below the AL and the STEL.
Ventilation is the best method for reducing the concentration of airborne substances in the breathing zone of workers. Local exhaust ventilation in the form of a chemical fume hood, snorkel or downdraft table should be used whenever possible.
Work Practices/Administrative Controls
Work practices and administrative controls can also help in reducing airborne concentrations of formaldehyde and potential exposures. Recommended laboratory work practices include:
- Develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for formaldehyde and/or formaldehyde solution use
- Keep solution containers of formaldehyde closed when not in use
- Use the minimal amount of formaldehyde required for each procedure
- Perform tasks involving formaldehyde in well ventilated areas
- Do not autoclave or microwave formaldehyde solutions
- Use formaldehyde preservative substitutes whenever possible
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is important to prevent for employee splash or other sudden contact with formaldehyde by creating a barrier between the user and formaldehyde. PPE minimizes the potential for employee exposure, but unlike engineering and work practice controls, does not reduce ambient formaldehyde exposure levels. Therefore, PPE should only be used as a supplement to engineering and work practice controls. Recommended PPE includes impermeable gloves, eye protection, lab coats and in some cases respiratory protection. Respirators should only be used in limited circumstances (emergencies or when engineering /work practice controls are not feasible). Employees must receive training, fit testing, and medical evaluation before being permitted to wear tight fitting respirators. Air purifying respirators must be approved by NIOSH for protection against formaldehyde.
Information and Training
Employees assigned to a workplace where formaldehyde is used must participate in training. Employees exposed to formaldehyde below 0.1 ppm may not require training. Employees must be trained when introduced into such a work environment and annually thereafter. Training material is available from the EH&S Office upon request. Training shall include:
- Discussion of the regulation, Safety Data Sheets and labels.
- The purpose for and a description of the medical surveillance program as it pertains to signs and symptoms of exposure.
- Discussion of health hazards, such as cancer, irritation, and sensitization of the skin and respiratory system, eye and throat irritation, and acute toxicity.
- Instructions to report to the Supervisor the development of any adverse signs or symptoms that are suspected to be attributable to HCHO exposure.
- Description of operations in the work area where formaldehyde is present and an explanation of the safe work practices appropriate for limiting exposure.
- The purpose for, proper use of, and limitations of personal protection equipment.
- Instructions for handling of spills, emergencies, and clean up procedures.
- The importance of engineering and safe work practices in reducing HCHO exposure.
- Instructions for the handling of spills, emergencies, and clean-up procedure and role of employee in case of contamination.