OSHA On Drugs, Formaldehyde, and Residential Fall Protection

In the last week, OSHA has tackled a range of issues. It warned salon workers on the dangers of formaldehyde, offered precautions to health care workers handling hazardous drugs and provided guidelines to residential construction employers on preventing injuries and deaths from falls.

Handling Hazardous Drugs

First up was a reminder to hospitals and health care employers that employees handling hazardous drugs are at risk if proper precautions are not used.

Together with NIOSH and The Joint Commission, OSHA issued a letter to healthcare professionals about the handling of drugs that are known to “cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, allergic reactions, and other adverse effects that can be irreversible even after low-level exposures.”

NIOSH compiles lists of hazardous drugs which can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-167/pdfs/2010-167.pdf and www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-165/pdfs/2004-165.pdf

NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. said, "Potent therapy drugs can have great benefit for patients when used in proper regimens, where doses are controlled and risks are minimized. But they can also have serious consequences to the workers who handle, dispense, mix, apply, and dispose of them without proper controls and training."

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels added, "Substances that present a potential health hazard to workers must be included in an employer's hazard communication program, and it should be readily available and accessible to all including temporary workers, contractors, and trainees.”

Dr. Michael’s remarks provide a strong reminder on the importance of maintaining a good hazard communication program – which includes MSDS Management.

Fall Protection

Citing falls as the leading cause of death for workers in residential construction, OSHA issued a new compliance guide for residential construction on fall protection in December of 2010. Then, to provide greater clarity and help employers comply with regulations, last week it issued guidance on Fall Protection in Residential Construction.

These activities mark a significant shift in the way OSHA has approached residential fall protection in the past. It used to be that OSHA allowed certain employers to use alternative residential fall protection methods, which fell short of the fall protection required in residential fall protection standard 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13). However, it has since rescinded those allowances, and all employers must now comply with 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13).

The only instance when employers will still be able to use alternative methods for residential fall protection is when they can demonstrate that conventional methods would create greater hazards. And in those cases, the employer must create written, site-specific plans that comply with the fall protection standard.

Use of Formaldehyde Products in Salons

OSHA issued a hazard alert to hair salon owners and workers on the dangers of formaldehyde exposure that can come from working with hair smoothing and straightening products.  It’s a topic that has found its way into the media spotlight in the last few months as a debate raged between salon workers, owners and makers of hair products debated the relative safety of the salon applications. Getting most of the attention is a salon process called the “Brazilian Blow Out.”

According OSHA’s announcement, “Federal OSHA has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists used hair smoothing products, some of which do have formaldehyde listed on their labels or in material safety data sheets as required by law. During one investigation, the agency's air tests showed formaldehyde at levels greater that OSHA's limits for a salon, even though the product tested was labeled as formaldehyde-free.”

In addition to advising salons to use formaldehyde free products, OSHA also reminded salon owners that continue to use products containing hazardous chemicals of their responsibility to follow OSHA’s formaldehyde standard 29 CFR 1910.1048. The standard covers things like PPE’s, employee training and MSDS management.

As a final warning on the subject, OSHA let it be known that investigations of salons on the subject are ongoing and citations are being issued.