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.

August 8, 1990

Ms. Michelle Fecteau Health and Safety Coordinator International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union 1710 Broadway New York, New York 10019

Dear Ms. Fecteau:

This is in response to your letter of June 1l, concerning the medical surveillance requirements of the formaldehyde standard (29 CFR 1910.1048).

Your first question is whether employers are exempt from providing medical surveillance when air monitoring results indicate levels below .l ppm. One condition that triggers the availability of nonroutine screening to test for possible formaldehyde-related illness is when the employer suspects that employees have signs or symptoms that may be related to their exposure to formaldehyde. Section (l)(1)(ii) of the standard states in part:

"When determining whether an employee may be experiencing signs and symptoms of possible overexposure to formaldehyde, the employer may rely on the evidence that signs and symptoms associated with formaldehyde exposure will occur only in exceptional circumstances when airborne exposure is less than 0.1 ppm and when formaldehyde is present in materials in concentrations less than 0.1 percent."

This section is a guideline and not an exemption. The employer must consider all exceptional circumstances, such as, more than one worker reports problems, the onset of signs and symptoms coincide with a new process, cloth, etc.

Your other question concerns rights of workers to get medical attention without loss of pay. Section (l)(2) of the formaldehyde standard clearly states that medical surveillance shall be provided without loss of pay. This section applies to all medical procedures including nonroutine screening to test for possible formaldehyde-related illness when the employer suspects that employees have signs or symptoms that may be related to their exposure to formaldehyde.

I hope this information is helpful. If we can be of further assistance, please contact us again.


Patricia K. Clark Director Designate Directorate of Compliance Programs

June 11, 1990

Dear Ms. Clark,

After speaking to Ellen Roznowski of the Directorate of Health Standards, as well as Harvey Shapiro, the supervising I.H. in the Manhattan Area Office, I have been referred to your office in order to obtain written clarification of the Formaldehyde Standard, 1910.1048,Section 1, in particular item (1)(ii) and (2).

The ILGWU and several garment industry employers with which the union has contract agreements, have differing interpretations of the above mentioned provisions in the Formaldehyde Standard. Several employers seem to believe that they are exempt from providing medical surveillance especially if they have air monitoring results which indicate levels below 1 ppm. This seems incorrect since section (1) does not state such an exemption.

I also question this assertion of an exemption since levels of formaldehyde in garment shops can vary widely from day to day given the constant turnover of fabric.

The union has also found a number of employers who are resistant to complying with a workers right to get medical attention without loss of pay.

This request for written clarification is especially important since the union has recently opened an occupational clinic as part of the well established ILGWU Union Health Center in New York City. In order to comply with the Formaldehyde Standard, most employers have been open to workers using the occupational clinic, since the health center is free to any member and it is financed by a general health and welfare fund. Workers have been reluctant to seek this medical attention since most garment shop contracts provide no sick days (due to seasonal layoffs), and employers have been resistant to providing lost work pay.

The union intends to continue widespread worker education on the Formaldehyde Standard and encourage those with symptoms to seek the medical attention to which they are entitled. With written clarification from your office, the union hopes to diminish unnecessary misinterpretations and delays in compliance by clearly presenting to employers workers' rights under the standard.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please contact me if you have any questions. My number is (212) 829-2991 ext. 287.


Michelle Fecteau Health and Safety Coordinator

cc: Ellen Roznowski