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OSHA issues final rule on employee exposure to formaldehyde; new ruling may affect some nonwovens manufacturers; INDA recommendation adopted in finalized version of rule.

new ruling may affect some nonwovens manufacturers; INDA recommendation adopted in finalized version of rule

After nearly five years of consideration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has finalized its rule on occupational exposure to formaldehyde. In adopting the final rule, OSHA incorporated a significant change that was recommended by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, on behalf of several of its member companies. INDA's recommendation had to do with emissions from solid versus non-solid forms of formaldehyde. The proposed version of this final rule was detailed in the October, 1991, issue of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.

The finalized rule is expected to have the greatest impact on plywood manufacturers, funeral home operators and other industries more directly associated with the use of formaldehyde. However, the rule is also significant to the nonwovens industry because formaldehyde can be generated during the drying and curing of certain binders and resins used in the manufacture of some nonwovens. The rule will also affect protective apparel manufacturers because it requires employers to provide protective clothing to any employee at risk of exposure to even small amounts of formaldehyde.

This rule is designed to protect industrial workers and should not affect the commercial market in any meaningful way.

OSHA first issued its proposed rule on worker exposure to formaldehyde in 1987. As originally proposed, the rule called for a reduced permissible exposure limit of one part formaldehyde per million parts of air as an eight hour time weighted average. The proposal also included provisions for such things as work place monitoring and record keeping.

Soon after the proposal was released, several labor unions brought suit in Federal court to prevent OSHA from implementing the rule on the grounds that the exposure levels were too high. The Formaldehyde Institute also sued OSHA on the grounds that the hazard communication provisions were inappropriate.

These suits resulted in negotiations between OSHA and representatives of the affected parties to develop a compromise on the most controversial aspect. These negotiations were successful and resulted in a second OSHA proposal that was released lazy year.

Under the negotiated version of the proposal, the permissable exposure level for formaldehyde was adjusted from one part per million (ppm) to 0.75 ppm as an eight hour time weighted average. The new version also changed hazard communication and employee training requirements and established hazard labeling requirements for solid materials capable of releasing formaldehyde into the air.

In releasing this second version, OSHA agreed to briefly reopen the public comment period. But since the new version was based on considerable negotiation and compromise by those most affected, OSHA noted that any comments requesting changes would have to be extremely persuasive if they were to be implemented.

INDA's Concerns

While most of the compromise proposal was acceptable to the nonwovens industry, there was a concern among a segment of INDA's membership that provisions contained in the hazard communications section would require the use of different warning labels for formaldehyde released from solid sources than those for formaldehyde released from non-solid (liquid) sources.

Basically, the new version of the proposal would have required that liquid or non-solid material capable of releasing formaldehyde at 0.1 ppm would require a label warning of all formaldehyde hazards, including cancer and respiratory sensitization. But solid materials capable of releasing formaldehyde at 0.1-0.5 ppm would only need to have labels identifying that the product contains formaldehyde and state that physical and health information available from the employer.

INDA submitted comments to OSHA that primarily addressed this issue, pointing out that the difference between solid and non-solid forms of formaldehyde was unreasonable and would require extensive relabeling on raw materials, in-plant storage tanks and other equipment. INDA noted that OSHA had not documented findings that exposure to 0.1-0.5 ppm of formaldehyde from a solid material could be distinguished from an equal exposure of 0.1-0.5 ppm of formaldehyde from another source.

INDA also noted that the negotiated proposal did not specify that the 0.1 ppm versus 0.5 ppm limits were to apply to an eight hour time weighted average.

To address these concerns, INDA recommended that OSHA drop the distinction between formaldehyde released from solid versus non-solid sources and suggested that any material capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels below 0.5 ppm contain labels informing workers that the product contains formaldehyde and that health and safety information is available from the employer. Similarly, INDA recommended that any products capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels above 0.5 ppm have hazard labels. Regarding the lack of a time frame, INDA recommended that OSHA specifically state that exposure relates to an eight hour time weighted average.

Final Rule

OSHA released its final rule on May 27 and noted in the preamble to the rule its agreement with INDA that the proposed version contained an "artificial distinction" between formaldehyde exposures from solid versus non-solid materials.

OSHA quoted from INDA's comment letter in the preamble and noted that it "reevaluated" its position because the agency "...agrees that the distinction between solids and other forms of formaldehyde is not appropriate."

OSHA also adopted INDA's recommendation that those materials (solid or non-solid) that emit formaldehyde at levels of less than 0.5 ppm need only to be labeled to indicate that they contain formaldehyde, state the name and address of the responsible party and indicate that health and safety information is available from the employer. No cancer warning is necessary for products that emit formaldehyde at levels below 0.5 ppm.

Moreover, products that emit formaldehyde at levels less than 0.1 ppm - or mixtures that contain less than 0.1% formaldehyde - need not be labeled at all. The final rule also specifies that these levels are to be based on an eight hour time weighted average. Otherwise, the final version of the rule is virtually identical to the original version.

Protective apparel manufacturers should note that the final rule also requires that employers provide chemical protective clothing to any employee who is at risk of exposure to liquids containing 1% or more formaldehyde.

The rule states that the employer is to take full responsibility for providing clothing at no cost to employees. The employer must assure the effectiveness of the protective clothing, as well as take responsibility for cleaning, laundering and/or disposal of the protective clothing. Employers are also to assure that no employee takes home equipment or clothing that is contaminated with formaldehyde.

Employers must also provide information about the "potentially harmful effects" of formaldehyde - as well as proper handling and safety procedures - to any person hired to launder, clean or repair protective clothing.
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Title Annotation:Occupational Safety and Health Administration; Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:1108
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