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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.
September 9, 2008
The Honorable Mary Landrieu
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Landrieu:
This is in response to your letter raising concerns regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) enforcement of the Occupational Exposure to Formaldehyde standard, 29 CFR 1910.1048, in establishments that manufactured travel trailers delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005. You were concerned that employees at trailer manufacturing sites were exposed to levels of formaldehyde "higher than allowed" by OSHA.
OSHA's formaldehyde standard applies to any worksite where employees are exposed to levels of formaldehyde in air that are measured to be at or above the "action level" of 0.5 parts per million (0.5 ppm), measured as an eight-hour time-weighted average exposure (8-hour TWA). The standard also applies to worksites where employees may be exposed above the Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 2 ppm formaldehyde, as averaged over a 15-minute sampling period. Employers at these worksites are required to perform initial exposure monitoring to determine each employee's exposure. If initial monitoring demonstrates that employees are exposed above these levels, then periodic exposure monitoring must be performed every six months, and the employer must notify each affected employee of their monitoring results in writing.
In your letter, you state that the OSHA standard requires employers to certify that employees are not exposed above the standard's Permissible Exposure Limit, or PEL, which is 0.75 ppm (an 8-hour TWA exposure). OSHA's standard requires employers to keep written records of their employees exposures, but they are not required to report their exposure sampling results to OSHA. These results are reviewed, however, by OSHA, whenever a workplace safety and health inspection is conducted at a workplace where the protections of the formaldehyde rule are applicable. In these instances, the OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer would review the employer's records to determine their accuracy and completeness.
In addition, the Compliance Officer would ensure that the other protections of OSHA's formaldehyde standard were being afforded to exposed employees. These additional protections, per 29 CFR 1910.1048, include the establishment of regulated areas (work areas where exposure limits may exceed the PEL or STEL and which are required to be marked off so that employees do not inadvertently enter these areas without necessary protections), the implementation of engineering and work practice controls to reduce or eliminate exposures, the implementation of an effective respiratory protection program, and the use of protective equipment and clothing to avoid skin and eye contact with formaldehyde. Other protections, such as changing areas, housekeeping provisions, medical surveillance provisions, hazard communication, employee training, and recordkeeping requirements are also included in the rule.
In addition to planned inspections, OSHA inspections are conducted in response to imminent dangers and fatalities, reports of employee death or workplace catastrophes, employee complaints, and referrals. All employers have a general responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from recognized hazards and to be in compliance with mandatory OSHA standards.
If OSHA receives an employee complaint alleging workplace over exposures to formaldehyde, or exposure to any other workplace safety or health hazard, OSHA investigates the complaint. According to OSHA's Integrated Management and Information Systems (IMIS) data, no inspections were conducted in response to employee complaints of alleged over exposure to formaldehyde at trailer manufacturing sites after the Gulf Coast hurricanes. If OSHA receives information that our safety and health standards have been violated and employees are being subjected to hazardous exposures of formaldehyde, or that the requirements of OSHA standards are not being met, a workplace safety and health inspection would be conducted, and violations, where noted, would be cited.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information explaining OSHA's enforcement of the protections of the Formaldehyde and other OSHA standards helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Ms. Suzanne Morgan in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at 202-693-4600.
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.