Hair Salons: Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products
Protecting Worker Health: What OSHA Requires
Hair salon products may contain or release formaldehyde. OSHA has found that some hair smoothing products may release formaldehyde at levels above OSHA's permissible limits during use. Salon owners and other employers (e.g., beauty schools) must comply with OSHA's formaldehyde and hazard communication standards if they use products that contain or may release formaldehyde. The best way to control formaldehyde exposure is to use products that do not list formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol, or any of the other names listed on the Formaldehyde in Your Products page.
If products containing these substances are being used, salon owners must follow the requirements of OSHA’s Formaldehyde standard:
- Test the air in your salon during product use to determine if workers may be exposed to formaldehyde levels at or above OSHA's limits (0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (ppm) for an 8-hour work shift or the Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 2 ppm during a 15-minute period). You must also notify workers of the air testing results.
- Give workers the right gloves and other protective equipment (for example, face shield, chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant aprons) and train workers how to use the equipment while mixing and applying the products.
- Explain to workers how to read and understand the information on a product's label and MSDS.
- Make sure the workplace has eye and skin washing equipment if products that contain formaldehyde could be splashed onto the workers' skin or into their eyes.
- Inform and train workers about the health effects of formaldehyde (including signs and symptoms exposure), how to use the product safely, what protective equipment to wear, how to safely clean up spills, how to properly throw out products, and how to handle formaldehyde-contaminated clothing and equipment. Workers must be trained at the time of their initial assignment and annually thereafter.
- Prepare a written hazard communication program that describes how workers will be informed about labels and other forms of warning, MSDSs, and training requirements.
- Offer workers the right medical attention (e.g., doctor exams) if they develop signs and symptoms of an exposure to formaldehyde or are exposed to large amounts of formaldehyde during an emergency (e.g., a large spill).
Workers who develop symptoms of formaldehyde exposure or other health problems after using a salon product should alert their employer and can:
- Ask OSHA a question or file a complaint by calling (1-800-321-OSHA) or submitting a form (online or fax/mail (PDF*)).
- Call FDA and report the reaction or health problem.
- Suggest their employers to call OSHA to receive free consultative services.
- File a request or suggest an employer file a request to NIOSH to have them come out and investigate (online or fax/mail).
If air testing shows formaldehyde levels in the salon are above 0.5 ppm during an 8-hour work shift or 2 ppm during any 15-minute period, then salon owners must:
- Offer workers the right medical attention (e.g., doctor exams).
- Test the air periodically to make sure that formaldehyde levels are below OSHA's limits. Testing must be performed at least every 6 months when levels are at or above 0.5 ppm and every 12 months when levels are at or above 2 ppm.
- Make sure workers who are exposed know what precautions are being used to lower their exposure.
- Use the additional measures below if formaldehyde levels are above OSHA’s limits of 2 ppm during any 15-minute period or go above 0.75 during an 8-hour work shift.
If air testing shows formaldehyde levels in the salon are above OSHA's limits of 0.75 ppm of air during an 8-hour work shift or 2 ppm during any 15-minute period, then salon owners must:
- Install and maintain ventilation systems in areas where the products are mixed and used to keep formaldehyde levels below OSHA limits.
- Use work practices that may reduce exposures, such as requiring lower heat settings on blow dryers and flat irons.
- Ensure workers are using appropriate protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, face shields, and chemical resistant aprons at no cost to the worker.
- Provide workers with respirators at no cost to them and train them in proper respirator use if ventilation and other work practices do not reduce formaldehyde levels below OSHA limits. If respirators are used, salon owners must also meet all other requirements outlined in 29 CFR 1910.134.
- Post signs warning workers that formaldehyde is present above OSHA limits and restrict access to authorized personnel.
Salon owners must also keep records of air tests and their results, any medical attention needed by their employees, and respirator fit-testing.
Failure to follow OSHA regulations regarding formaldehyde and hazard communication can result in citations and fines.
Do you use hair products that may contain formaldehyde? If so, take the following steps to protect yourself:
- Read and understand the ingredient and warning information on a product's label. Read the MSDS for each product you use. Your salon must have this document and make it available to you. The MSDS provides more information about product ingredients and associated hazards.
- Use available ventilation systems, such as fans and/or windows, and personal protective equipment, such as gloves, face shield, goggles, and chemical resistant aprons as necessary.
- Know the location of eye washing, skin washing, and other first aid equipment in your workplace.
- Learn the hazards of the products you use and how to safely clean up spills.
- Alert your employer and get medical attention if you develop symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, or if you know you've been exposed directly to large amounts of formaldehyde (such as during a spill).
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