Formaldehyde is the simplest of a class of organic compounds called aliphatic aldehydes. It is well known as a preservative in medical laboratories, as an embalming fluid, and as a sterilizer. Its primary use is in the production of resins and as a chemical intermediate. Urea-formaldehyde (UF) and phenol formaldehyde (PF) resins are used in foam insulation, as adhesives in the production of particle board and plywood, and in the treating of textiles.
What are the hazards associated with formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen. Short-term exposure to high concentrations of formaldehyde can be fatal. Long-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and sensitization.
Formaldehyde in its gaseous state is highly flammable with a broad explosive range (7% - 73%). Formaldehyde in solution as formalin (37% formaldehyde) is combustible and is highly reactive with many chemicals.
What can I do to protect myself?
The simplest approach is to avoid using products that contain formaldehyde. When that is not possible, position yourself and the work process so that ventilation can move formaldehyde vapors away from you.
Your employer is required to protect you below the permissible exposure limits using engineering and administrative controls. When they are not sufficient, they must provide you with an appropriate respirator and ensure that it is used in conjunction with an effective respiratory protection program.
What resources are available to assist employers?
Training and Outreach Services
Presentations that may also assist the employer with their training requirements include hazard communication, respiratory protection, and personal protective equipment. These presentations should be modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards.
In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. These pre-recorded webinars on hazard communication, respiratory protection and toxic and hazardous substances can also be accessed at any time.
Further, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).
Safety and Health Programs
Example programs for hazard communication and respiratory protection can be customized to fit workplace conditions and hazards as part of the employer's overall comprehensive safety and health program. In addition, a PPE hazard assessment can be completed to ensure all applicable PPE is being used.
A-Z Safety and Health Topics
The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.
Which standards apply?
OSH has adopted the following standards which are applicable to formaldehyde in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic.
29 CFR 1910.1048 - formaldehyde
Maritime, Shipyard Employment
29 CFR 1915.1048 - formaldehyde
29 CFR 1926.1148 - formaldehyde
Other OSH standards relevant to occupational exposure to formaldehyde include:
29 CFR 1910.132 - personal protective equipment, general requirements
29 CFR 1910.133 - eye and face protection
29 CFR 1910.134 - respiratory protection
29 CFR 1910.138 - hand protection
29 CFR 1910.141 - sanitation
29 CFR 1910.1020 - access to employee exposure and medical records
29 CFR 1910.1200 - hazard communication
29 CFR 1926.20 - general safety and health provisions
29 CFR 1926.28 - access to employee exposure and medical records
29 CFR 1926.95 - criteria for personal protective equipment
29 CFR 1926.102 - eye and face protection
- 29 CFR 1926.103 - respiratory protection
Other Applicable Standards
The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.
Where can I learn more?
Industry Guide 48 - OSHA Construction Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training, provides requirements for standards related to occupational exposure to formaldehyde in construction.
Industry Guide 49 - OSHA General Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training, provides requirements for standards related to occupational exposure to formaldehyde in general industry.
Industry Guide 53 - OSHA Shipyard Employment Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training, highlights the requirements of standards related to occupational exposure to formaldehyde in shipyard employment.
Compliance directive CPL 02-02-052 establishes enforcement policy and provides an explanation of the formaldehyde standard for general industry to ensure uniform enforcement.
If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-707-7876.