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.

October 18, 2010

Directorate of Enforcement Programs
SUBJECT: Region V Request for Enforcement Guidance on Portland Cement and Hexavalent Chromium

This is in response to a January 7, 2009, memo from Region V's Administrator, Michael Connors, with subject, "Portland Cement and Hexavalent Chromium." Region V requested guidance on enforcement issues pertaining to the issuance of portland cement and hexavalent chromium citations. Our reply has been coordinated with the Directorate of Construction and the Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs.

Scenarios: Region V sought clarification with respect to three specific construction scenarios:

  1. We need clarification as to what constitutes an acceptable eyewash station. For example, in freezing temperatures, employers need to prevent eyewash stations from freezing, so in lieu of traditional eyewash stations, they provide a garden hose, water containers, etc., located in a heated floor below the active working deck.
  2. We need clarification as to what constitutes "readily available" or "readily accessible." For example, an employer has running water at a mortar mixer, but has soap, towels, additional water, and a garbage can inside the job trailer. How far is too far away?
  3. We need clarification as to when long-sleeved shirts are required on employees working with portland cement. For example, a worker is using a long-handled trowel to smooth out and finish a concrete floor or road. Many employers do not feel the need to require long-sleeved shirts during concrete finishing operations.

Replies: OSHA's general standards for personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitation, and first aid apply to skin and eye hazards from portland cement, and OSHA's Chromium (VI) standards apply to the same hazards from hexavalent chromium compounds. All of these provisions use general terms and phrases such as, "where a hazard is present," "provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment," "provide readily accessible washing facilities," "suitable facilities," "readily available," "within the work area," "near proximity," and "whenever it is necessary." In most situations, enforcement of these provisions simply requires professional judgment by compliance officers. OSHA has already issued a number of letters of interpretation on the applicable standards, and some of those letters are listed at the end of this memo for further reference.

Scenario #1: With respect to the question about whether hoses or water containers located on a heated floor below an unheated work area in freezing temperatures constitute a compliant eyewash facility, the applicable standard is 29 CFR 1926.50(g), which states: "Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use." [Emphasis added.]

In determining whether eyewash facilities are "suitable" for any corrosive materials or chemicals to which employees may be exposed, compliance officers and employers should evaluate the specific job tasks and work site conditions. This should include consulting the manufacturer's material safety data sheet (MSDS) for hazard information and first aid procedures. For portland cement, a typical manufacturer's MSDS provides the following information:

Emergency and First Aid Procedures: Irrigate eyes immediately and repeatedly with large amount of clean water for at least 15 minutes and get prompt medical attention.

Guidance on "suitability" may be found in consensus or industry standards, one of which is the 2009 version of ANSI Z358.1, American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment. For example, this ANSI standard specifies that plumbed and self-contained eyewashes shall be capable of delivering flushing fluid to the eyes at not less than 0.4 gallons per minute for 15 minutes (Section 5.1.6). Although OSHA does not enforce consensus standards, if an emergency eyewash complies with the ANSI standard, such compliance will usually meet the intent of the OSHA standard. In any event, OSHA considers it a de minimis condition if an employer complies with a consensus standard rather than with the applicable OSHA standard and the employer's action clearly provides equal or greater protection. See CPL 02-00-148, Field Operations Manual (Chapter 4, Section VIII.A.2., Nov. 9, 2009).

Depending on the circumstances, hoses and water containers may be "suitable" eyewash facilities. OSHA has previously recognized the potential suitability of the following types of eyewash facilities in situations in which there is a small likelihood of employee exposure to the corrosive material in question: 1) portable, self-contained eyewash devices containing at least one gallon of potable water; and 2) specially-designated and pressure-controlled water hoses equipped with proper face and body wash nozzles that can provide copious amounts of low velocity potable water. See OSHA's directive, STD 01-08-002, 29 CFR 1910.151(c), Medical Services and First Aid; 29 CFR 1926.50 and .51, Medical Service and First Aid, and Sanitation, Respectively; Applicable to Electric Storage Battery Charging and Maintenance Areas, March 8, 1982.

As for the location of the eyewash, 29 CFR 1926.50(g) requires that it be within the employee's work area and available for immediate use in case of exposure. Generally an eyewash facility on a floor below the active working deck would not be within the "work area." For reference, ANSI Z358.1 specifies that the eyewash unit is to be placed in an accessible location that is on the same level as the hazard and can be reached by the employee in no more than 10 seconds (Section 5.4.2). For a strong acid or a strong caustic, the ANSI standard further specifies that the eyewash should be located immediately adjacent to the hazard (Section 5.4.2). If there is a possibility of encountering freezing conditions, the ANSI standard specifies that the eyewash equipment is to be protected from freezing or that freeze-protected equipment be installed (Section 5.4.5). It follows that low temperatures alone may not justify a failure to provide suitable drenching facilities in the employee's work area in accordance with 29 CFR 1926.50(g). Methods of providing compliant facilities in areas affected by freezing temperatures may be feasible, such as using a portable heater to prevent freezing. The Review Commission has noted, however, that in some situations "it is evident that it would not be possible to maintain an eyewash ... outside during the winter." Bridgeport Brass Company, 11 BNA OSHC 2255 (No. 82-899, 1984).

Scenario #2: With respect to the specific question about how far washing facilities may be located from workers operating a mortar mixer, the applicable construction standard is 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1), which 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 the employees. Such facilities near proximity to the worksite and shall be so equipped as to enable employees to remove such substances." [Emphasis added.] For portland cement, a typical manufacturer's MSDS provides the following information with respect to skin exposure:

Emergency and First Aid Procedures: Wash exposed skin areas with pH-neutral soap and clean water?

Damage to skin exposed to portland cement occurs more slowly than if the skin were exposed to a strong acid, but skin exposures to portland cement still require decontamination, which is controlled by hygiene measures and, if necessary, first aid measures to prevent serious skin injury.

OSHA has interpreted 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1) to require the employer to provide clean water, non-alkaline soap, and clean towels where employees are working with portland cement. Additionally, pH buffer solutions that remove and neutralize caustic residues on skin may also be effective for hygiene and/or first aid after exposures to portland cement. (See Ryan, 4/11/08).

Employers must have the required washing facilities in "near proximity" to the work site. For this specific scenario, washing facilities in a job trailer on the work site would satisfy this standard. (Note that OSHA has interpreted the term "near proximity" in its first aid standards to mean that first aid must be available within 3 to 15 minutes, depending on the seriousness of the hazard(s). See Brogan, 1/16/07).

Scenario #3: With respect to the question regarding the need for long-sleeved shirts to prevent skin exposures from portland cement in concrete finish work, compliance officers and employers, again, must make case-by-case determinations taking into account the physical aspects of the process or operation, any control measures, the chemical and physical properties of the compound or mixture, and the frequency and duration of exposure. This performance-oriented requirement is consistent with the general requirements of OSHA's PPE standards (29 CFR 1926.95 for construction). In the scenario of concrete finishing, an employer may determine that there are no splash or contact hazards from wet cement, or that long sleeves may result in a greater hazard from heat stress where the work takes place in high temperatures. In those scenarios, long sleeves would not be required.

Please note that the above discussion has focused exclusively on exposures to portland cement and the application of OSHA's general standards for PPE, sanitation, and first aid. For skin or eye exposures to hexavalent chromium compounds (excluding portland cement), the applicable provisions in the Chromium (VI) standards (29 CFR 1926.1126for construction) are as follows:

  • The Chromium (VI) standards don't contain specific provisions for eyewash facilities, so employers must comply with OSHA's general standards, e.g., §1926.50. (See CPL 02-02-074, Inspection Procedures for the Chromium (VI) Standards (Jan. 24, 2008), p. 70).
  • Section 1926.1126(h)(3)(i) states, "The employer shall provide readily accessible washing facilities capable of removing chromium (VI) from the skin, and shall ensure that affected employees use these facilities when necessary." [Emphasis added.]
  • Section 1926.1126(g)(1) states, " Where a hazard is present or is likely to be present from skin or eye contact with chromium (VI), the employer shall provide appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment?" [Emphasis added.]

In enforcing paragraphs (h)(3)(i) and (g)(1) of the Chromium (VI) standard for construction, compliance officers and employers may get guidance from the Agency's interpretations of the general standards for PPE, sanitation, and first aid, addressed above. But, again, the specific chemical substance(s) and site conditions must be evaluated, case by case.

For related OSHA interpretations, see the following letters:

Further practical information and guidance on controlling skin hazards from portland cement, including the use of pH buffers, is in OSHA Publication 3351, Preventing Skin Problems from Working with Portland Cement, 2008. We hope this information and our interpretations were helpful. If you have further questions, please call our Office of Health Enforcement at 202-693-2190.