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Question icon I am a science teacher whose job involves frequent handling of biological specimens preserved with formaldehyde. Am I at risk of getting cancer or any other disease?
Answer icon The substance used to preserve biological specimens is actually formalin, a clear liquid made up of formaldehyde, methanol, and water. Because formaldehyde represents about 37 percent of the formalin solution, your concerns are well founded.

Formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that can affect your immune system. It is also a suspected carcinogen linked to nasal and lung cancer. Acute exposure is highly irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat and can make you cough and wheeze. Subsequent exposure may cause severe allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Ingestion can be fatal, and exposure to concentrations of 100 or more parts per million are immediately dangerous to health or life. Long-term exposure to even low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching.

The best way to protect yourself is to limit your exposure and use proper personal protective equipment whenever working with or near biological specimens. A new OSHA fact sheet offers more information about formaldehyde and worker protections. It is posted on the agency website at Click on Publications.

Question icon I supervise building maintenance workers who spend a lot of time working on a powered platform outside a high-rise building. What training am I required to provide my employees?
Answer iconExcessive OSHA’s standard on powered platforms for building maintenance is found in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910.66. The standard requires employers to have a competent person train their employees who operate powered platforms to recognize and prevent safety hazards; use personal fall arrest systems; and follow safe work procedures for operating, using, maintaining, and inspecting platforms. A competent person is someone who can identify health and safety hazards in the workplace and has the authority to correct them.

A new OSHA fact sheet provides more details about employers’ responsibilities to protect workers on powered platforms, including engineering, personal fall protection, and stabilization system requirements in the OSHA standard. The fact sheet is available on the agency website at Click on Publications.

Question iconI’ve read a lot lately about silica and am worried that my husband, a self-employed tile installer, could get silicosis. Where can I learn more?
Answer iconThe Some 2 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica dust each year, and 300 die each year from silicosis. The disease begins when a worker inhales silica dust particles that penetrate into deep lung tissue. The body’s defenses form scar tissue and fibrous nodules around the particles, limiting the lungs’ ability to stretch when victims inhale. Lungs weakened by silicosis become vulnerable to disease, particularly tuberculosis, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Kidney disease can also result from heavy exposure to silica.

However, silicosis is a 100 percent preventable disease. The best way for your husband to protect himself is to use a silica substitute in his work. If that is not feasible, he should be sure to use personal protective equipment, including a respirator, and to take steps to prevent ingesting silica by not eating, drinking, or smoking in his work area. It also is advisable for him to change from his work clothes and to shower, if possible, before leaving the worksite to avoid carrying silica dust home with him.

To learn more, check out OSHA’s eTool on silica. This web-based training tool provides information to evaluate a workplace for potential silica hazards and take appropriate safeguards. To find it, visit the OSHA website at Click on eTools. JSHQ