- Safety and Health Topics
- Hexavalent Chromium
Hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] is one of the valence states (+6) of the element chromium. It is usually produced by an industrial process. Cr(VI) is known to cause cancer. In addition, it targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes. Chromium metal is added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance. A major source of worker exposure to Cr(VI) occurs during "hot work" such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal. Cr(VI) compounds may be used as pigments in dyes, paints, inks, and plastics. It also may be used as an anticorrosive agent added to paints, primers, and other surface coatings. The Cr(VI) compound chromic acid is used to electroplate chromium onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating.
Who is exposed to hexavalent chromium?
It is estimated that 558,000 workers are potentially exposed to Cr(VI) in the United States. Workers in a variety of occupations are potentially exposed to Cr(VI). Workplace exposures occur mainly in the following areas:
- Welding and other types of "hot work" on stainless steel and other metals that contain chromium
- Use of pigments, spray paints and coatings
- Operating chrome plating baths
Where is exposure to hexavalent chromium occurring?
Industrial processes that involve chromium can result in worker exposure to toxic hexavalent chromium. OSHA provides a publicly available Chemical Exposure Health Database which includes industrial hygiene sample results from OSHA inspections. This database does not include worksite inspection sample results from many of the 26 States that operated OSHA-approved State Plans or OSHA consultation visits. This data provides a snapshot of industry sectors and business subcategories where levels of airborne Cr(VI) have been found. The industry profile tables in this website are based on Cr(VI) air samples taken during OSHA inspections from 2006 to 2009. While the tables represent only a small fraction of the total number of companies in their respective industries, the results can provide insight into where workplace Cr(VI) exposure is occurring in the United States.
Requirements to protect workers from Cr(VI) exposure are addressed in specific OSHA standards for General Industry, Shipyard Employment, and Construction.
Highlights OSHA directives (instruction to OSHA staff) and letters of interpretation (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to hexavalent chromium.
Discusses the adverse health effects associated with Cr(VI).
Exposure and Controls
Provides information on exposure limits and analytical methods used to evaluate hexavalent chromium exposure.
Provides links and references to additional resources related to hexavalent chromium.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-Site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-Site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
- Controlling Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium in Aerospace and Air Transport Painting. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3650), (2013).
- Hexavalent Chromium Hazards in Bridge Painting. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3649), (2013).
- Controlling Hexavalent Chromium Exposures during Electroplating. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3648), (2013).
- Controlling Hazardous Fume and Gases during Welding. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3647), (2013).