Isocyanates are a group of highly reactive, low molecular weight compounds used in the production of urethane and polyurethane compounds, respectively. Isocyanates are the raw materials that make up all polyurethane products. Jobs that may involve exposure to isocyanates include painting, foam-blowing, and the manufacture of many polyurethane products, such as chemicals, polyurethane foam, insulation materials, surface coatings, car seats, furniture, foam mattresses, under-carpet padding, packaging materials, shoes, laminated fabrics, polyurethane rubber, and adhesives, and during the thermal degradation of polyurethane products.
Unless otherwise specified, the term "isocyanate" will be used interchangeably to include diisocyanates.
What are the hazards associated with isocyanates?
The concern with occupational exposure to isocyanates arises from the health effects, which include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficult breathing. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. However, the main effects due to hazardous exposures are occupational asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin.
Is there a special emphasis program associated with this topic?
Occupational exposure to isocyanates falls within the OSH Division health hazards special emphasis program.
What can I do to protect myself?
Employees working with isocyanate-containing materials should always work in a well ventilated area and, whenever possible, use local exhaust ventilation. When this is not feasible, the employer must provide the appropriate type of respiratory protection in conjunction with an effective respiratory protection program. In addition, be sure to wear the appropriate type of gloves to prevent absorption of isocyanates into the skin.
What resources are available to assist employers?
Training and Outreach Services
Presentations that may be customized to the worksite include hazard communication, respiratory protection, and personal protective equipment.
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.
Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).
Safety and Health Programs
Example programs for hazard communication, hazardous chemicals and respiratory protection can be downloaded and customized to fit the workplace. A PPE hazard assessment should also be conducted to ensure that all PPE has been identified to protect the employee from exposure.
A-Z Safety and Health Topics
Other relevant information pertaining to hazard communication, personal protective equipment, eyewash stations and emergency showers and respiratory protection can be found on the applicable A-Z safety and health topics page.
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 for occupational exposure to isocyanates 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 1910.1000, Table Z-1 - air contaminants
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 1910.1200 - hazard communication
Maritime, Shipyard Employment
29 CFR 1915.1000 - air contaminants
29 CFR 1915.152 - personal protective equipment - general requirements
29 CFR 1915.153 - eye and face protection
29 CFR 1915.154 - respiratory protection
29 CFR 1915.157 - hand and body protection
29 CFR 1915.1200 - hazard communication
29 CFR 1926.55 - gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, and mists
29 CFR 1926.59 - hazard communication
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 isocyanates 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 isocyanates 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 isocyanates in shipyard employment.
- Operational Procedure Notice: OPN 135, Special Emphasis Program for Exposure to Health Hazards, establishes enforcement policy and provides an explanation of how occupational exposure to isocyanates will be investigated 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 email@example.com or by calling 919-707-7876.