OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

December 12, 1989

Mr. Thomas J. Dufficy
Executive Vice President
National Association of
Photographic Manufacturers, Inc.
550 Mamaroneck Avenue
Harrison, New York 10528

Dear Mr. Dufficy:

This is an update to our interim response to your letter concerning OSHA's formaldehyde standard (29 CFR 1910.1048). Please accept my apology for the delay in this reply.

The first issue is the application of paragraph (i) Hygiene protection to photographic processing facilities. You informed us that such facilities use formaldehyde containing products ranging in concentrations of 10 percent to 37 percent. Containers of these products range in size from 1.0 fluid ounce bottles up to 5.0 gallon containers. Because of the severe dermal effects that can occur when employees have skin contact with concentrated solutions of formaldehyde and because of the relative irreversibility of dermal sensitization to formaldehyde, the employer is required to provide conveniently located quick drench showers for employees who become splashed with solutions of 1 percent or greater formaldehyde as the result of equipment failure, improper work practices, or other emergencies. The availability of emergency showers should also help to lower any potentially serious inhalation hazard when an employee has been splashed with a formaldehyde solution.

For small spills, a faucet or small hand held unit could be used provided that all affected parts could be reached. The degree of sophistication of the emergency shower type varies with the size of the potential splash.

Liquid formaldehyde can also cause severe damage to the eyes. Thus, the standard requires employers to provide appropriate eye wash facilities within the immediate work area for emergency use by any employee whose eyes are splashed with solutions containing 0.1 percent or more of formaldehyde. Such units may be portable if they permit the eye to be flushed for at least 15 minutes.

Since these requirements of the standard are triggered based on the percentage of formaldehyde in a solution, it is not appropriate for us to interpret that these provisions only apply when certain quantities of solutions are used. This is a call OSHA Area Directors make on a case-by-case basis when inspections are conducted.

The characterization of emergency plans in your letter is essentially correct. Each employer must develop a plan which addresses an appropriate response to all foreseeable emergencies, which may include spills. Any training, information and equipment required by a response plan must be given to employees. Spills are specifically covered by paragraph (j) housekeeping. Adequate provisions for containment, decontamination and cleanup must be made, and employees involved must have suitable equipment and training.

The formaldehyde standard's monitoring requirements are quite clear about the need for sampling to determine the exposure of each employee who may be exposed at or above the action level (0.5 ppm TWA) or 2.0 ppm STEL, under any foreseeable conditions of use. Objective data may be used to document that an employee's exposure will not exceed these levels. The data used must accurately represent every employee's exposure to formaldehyde, in all foreseeable conditions, in order to allow an exception to the requirement for sampling. Appendix B of the standard provides additional information and guidance.

OSHA has a variance procedure for those seeking an alternative to a particular requirement or standard. Employers must prove their conditions, practices, means, methods, operations or processes provide a safe and healthful workplace as effectively as would compliance with the standard. In making a determination, OSHA weighs the employer's evidence and arranges a variance inspection and hearing where appropriate. If you would like more information on OSHA's variance procedures you can contact Mr. James Concannon at (202) 523-7193.

Your members may also like to know about the availability of free consultation assistance for establishing and maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. The National Office contact on this is Joseph Collier at (202) 523-7266.

I hope this information is useful to you and your members. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us again.


Thomas J. Shepich, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs