- Safety and Health Topics
- Ethylene Oxide
Ethylene oxide (EtO) is produced in large volumes and is primarily used as an intermediate in the production of several industrial chemicals, the most notable of which is ethylene glycol. It is also used as a fumigant in certain agricultural products and as a sterilant for medical equipment and supplies. Unfortunately, EtO possesses several physical and health hazards that merit special attention. EtO is both flammable and highly reactive. Acute exposures to EtO gas may result in respiratory irritation and lung injury, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis. Chronic exposure has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization.
Exposures to ethylene oxide are addressed in specific OSHA standards for General Industry, Shipyard Employment, and Construction.
Provides references that aid in recognizing and evaluating ethylene oxide hazards in the workplace.
Provides assistance and information about the management of occupational exposures to ethylene oxide.
Provides references that aid in preventing and controlling exposures to ethylene oxide.
Provides links and references to additional resources related to exposures to ethylene oxide.
Workers have the right to:
- Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
- Receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary the worker understands) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- File a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA's rules. OSHA will keep all identities confidential.
- Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation, including reporting an injury or raising health and safety concerns with their employer or OSHA. If a worker has been retaliated against for using their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days.
For additional information, see OSHA's Workers page.
How to Contact OSHA
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to help ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), TTY 1-877-889-5627.
- Maximize Your Spirometry Screening and Surveillance Resources. OSHA/NIOSH InfoSheet (OSHA Publication 3415), (2011).
- Protect Yourself - Spirometry Breathing Test. OSHA/NIOSH Worker Info (OSHA Publication 3418), (2011).
- OSHA's Small Business Guide for Ethylene Oxide (PDF). OSHA Publication 3359, (April 2009). Provides guidance to help employers understand the EtO standard, with particular emphasis on how to monitor the quality of the air in workplaces where EtO is processed, used, or handled. Air monitoring is an important activity that can help alert employers when unsafe levels of EtO are present in the air so they can take steps to reduce employee exposure.
- Hospital. OSHA eTool. Focuses on some of the hazards and controls found in the hospital setting and describes standard requirements as well as recommended safe work practices for employee safety and health.
- Central Supply. Provides information on hazards and methods of exposure prevention regarding ethylene oxide gas.