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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 http://www.osha.gov.
April 11, 2008
Mr. Gerald J. Ryan
Director of Training, Health and Safety
Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association (OPCMIA)
11720 Beltsville Drive, Suite 700
Beltsville, MD 20705
Dear Mr. Ryan:
Thank you for your letter, January 24, 2008, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter asks whether provision of pH buffer solutions would comply with OSHA's sanitation standards, in particular the requirement for washing facilities supplied with "cleansing agents," for work with portland cement. This reply letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not detailed in your original correspondence. Your paraphrased question and our reply are below.
Question: You have asked whether an employer's provision of pH buffer solutions is adequate, under OSHA's sanitation standards, for employees working with portland cement. Specifically, you asked if the use of pH buffer solutions would comply with OSHA's requirement for employers to provide "hand soap or similar cleansing agents" in lavatories, which is found in the general industry sanitation standard, 29 CFR 1910.141(d)(2)(iii).
Reply: As you are aware, there are dermal hazards associated with working with portland cement – particularly wet cement. Skin exposure to wet cement can result in cement burns (due to the caustic nature of the cement) or inflammation of the skin, due to either irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. See, for example, 71 FR 10171-72 (February 28, 2006), for a discussion of dermal hazards associated with portland cement in the preamble to the Final Rule for Occupational Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium. See also further discussion in Section C-1, Portland Cement Inspection Procedures, of Appendix C in the OSHA Instruction CPL 02-02-074, Inspection Procedures for the Chromium (VI) Standards (January 24, 2008). Employers can also find guidance in OSHA's on-line publication, Preventing Skin Problems from Working with Portland Cement (2008), and OSHA's publication, Concrete Manufacturing Pocket Guide (OSHA 3221, 2004).
As described in OSHA's Portland Cement Inspection Procedures, work with portland cement is covered by OSHA's three sanitation standards. Which standard applies depends on whether the work is in general industry, construction, or shipyards. OSHA's standard for washing facilities at construction sites, 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1), states,
The employer shall provide adequate washing facilities for employees engaged in the application of paints, coating, herbicides, or insecticides, or in other operations where contaminants may be harmful to employees. Such facilities shall be in near proximity to the worksite and shall be so equipped to enable employees to remove such substances.
OSHA's standard for washing facilities in shipyards, 29 CFR 1915.97(b), states,
The employer shall provide adequate washing facilities for employees engaged in the application of paints or coatings or in other operations where contaminants can, by ingestion or absorption, be detrimental to the health of the employees. The employer shall encourage good personal hygiene practices by informing the employees of the need for removing surface contaminants by thorough washing [of] hands and face prior to eating or smoking.
Finally, OSHA's standard for washing facilities in general industry, 29 CFR 1910.141(d)(2), Lavatories, states,
(i) Lavatories shall be made available in all places of employment....
(ii) Each lavatory shall be provided with hot and cold running water, or tepid running water.
(iii) Hand soap or similar cleansing agents shall be provided.
(iv) Individual hand towels or sections thereof, of cloth or paper, warm air blowers or clean individual sections of continuous cloth toweling, convenient to the lavatories, shall be provided.
As explained in OSHA's Portland Cement Inspection Procedures, we interpret all three of these standards to require employers to provide "clean water, non-alkaline soap, and clean towels" at worksites where employees are working with portland cement. We read your inquiry to be asking whether a pH buffer solution may substitute for non-alkaline soap, or a combination of clean water and non-alkaline soap, for the removal of wet portland cement from the skin. OSHA recognizes that the use of pH buffering solutions may aid in preventing skin problems where there is exposure to wet cement. Therefore, our response to your question is a qualified "yes." Providing pH buffer solution could meet the requirements of OSHA's sanitation standards as long as the use of the pH buffer solution would enable employees to remove the substance(s) that pose(s) the dermal hazard(s). If there are surface contaminants at a worksite in addition to portland cement or if the pH buffer solution is not used in a manner that can adequately remove the portland cement or other contaminants, then the employer would still need to provide clean water and soap.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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 remain informed, we suggest you consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the OSHA Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs