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Environmental Health & Safety

Formaldehyde Exposure Compliance

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  2. This procedure establishes how the University of Rochester (UR) complies with the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Formaldehyde Standard (29CFR 1910.1048).

  4. All employees who work with or have the potential for exposure to formaldehyde (CAS: 50-00-0) as part of their work duties. This includes formaldehyde gas and solutions.

  6. Action Level - An airborne concentration of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) formaldehyde calculated as an 8-hour (hr) Time-Weighted Average (TWA). Exposure above the Action Level triggers additional compliance requirements.

    Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) - An airborne concentration of 0.75 ppm formaldehyde calculated as an 8-hr TWA. No employee shall be exposed to formaldehyde exceeding this level.

    Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) - An airborne concentration of 2.0 ppm formaldehyde calculated as a 15 minute TWA. No employee shall be exposed to formaldehyde exceeding the STEL.

    1. Supervisor or Principal Investigator (PI):
      • Indentify those employees who handle formaldehyde as part of their work duties.
      • Assign required compliance training
        • Laboratory staff - Annual Lab Safety Training
        • Clinical staff - Mandatory In-Service Education Program
      • Ensure that employees are made aware of the hazards associated with formaldehyde prior to beginningn work. This includes a review of specific formaldehyde handling tasks, appropriate safe work practices and procedures, required personal protective equipment and/or additional exposure controls.
      • Ensure that a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is available for formaldehyde solutions, paraformaldehyde or formaldehyde releasing mixtures.
      • Ensure that formaldehyde handling tasks under their jurisdiction have been assessed by Environmental Health & Safety for potential exposure.
    2. Employees
      • Complete assigned training and comply with the safe work practices and procedures.
    3. Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S):
      • Maintain and administer this program
      • At the request of the supervisor or PI, perform exposure assessments for formaldehyde use operations. Based on qualitative assessment a determination will be made if quantitative exposure monitoring is required.
      • Based on exposure assessment, recommend exposure controls including local exhaust ventilation, respiratory protection, and/or additional personal protective equipment
  9. High concentrations (37%) of formaldehyde can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. Lower concentrations (10%) are highly irritating to the eye, nose and throat, and can cause respiratory irritation. Chronic over-exposure to formaldehyde containing materials can result in allergic sensitization, nasal or nasapharyngeal cancer.

    1. Training
    2. Training is required for all employees assigned to workplaces where there is exposure to formaldehyde. For UR employees who work in laboratory settings generic formaldehyde awareness training is included in the annual EH&S Laboratory Safety Training required of all laboratory staff. For clinical staff, formaldehyde awareness training is included in the Mandatory In-Service Education Program required of all UR Medical staff annually.

    3. Exposure Monitoring
    4. An initial exposure assessment is required by OSHA for each operation where there is potential exposure to formaldehyde. Many formaldehyde handling tasks at UR are similar in nature, such as placing tissue specimens in small, covered containers containing formaldehyde. If quantitative exposure monitoring has been conducted previously for a simliar operation, and objective data confirms that exposure is below the Action Limit, then reference to previous exposure monitoring is sufficient. This determination is made by EH&S.

      For those tasks that have not had initial exposure monitoring, EH&S will conduct exposure monitoring that is representative of all employees performing similar tasks within that exposure group. It is the responsiblity of the supervisor or PI to inform EH&S of formaldehyde handling operations.

      Periodic exposure monitoring is required for any employee (or exposure group) where initial exposure monitoring indicated exposure at or above the Action Limit or STEL. In addition, airborne concentrations at this level requies the establishment of a "Regulated Area", associated hazard signage, restricted access, respiratory protection and the implementation of feasible engineering and work practice exposure controls.

    5. Labels
    6. All containers of formaldehyde (solutions, or potentially formaldehyde releasing mixtures) must be labeled wit hazard warning information. Labels must comply with the Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Classification and Labeling (GHS).

    7. Medical Evaluation
    8. Medical evaluation shall be made available for any employee exposed to formaldehyde at or above the Action Level or STEL.

    9. Staff Work Practices and Exposure Controls
      1. Review the SDS and obtain laboratory/area specific training/orientation for formaldehyde handling operations before beginning work. SDSs must be readily available. (MSDSOnline)
      2. All containers must utilize tight fitting lids.
      3. Keep containers closed as much as possible.
      4. Use the smallest quantities for the experiment / task being performed.
      5. Formaldehyde handling tasks must be performed in well ventilated spaces (minimum of 8 air changes per hour).
      6. Ensure there is an accessible eye wash station in the area.
      7. Perform formaldehyde handling tasks in a laboratory fume hood or utilizing local exhaust ventilation if available.
      8. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as specified in local procedures. All contact with the skin and eyes with liquids containing 1% or more formaldehyde shall be prevented by the use of chemical protective clothing, eye and/or face protection. Nitrile or neoprene gloves should be worn when handling formaldehyde. Latex gloves are not recommended.
      9. Utilize a tray to capture any potential spills.
      10. Do not eat, drink, smoke, handle contact lenses or apply cosmetics where formaldehyde is handled.
      11. Minimize quantities ordered and stored.
      12. In case of accidental skin or eye exposure, wash the exposed area in an eye wash, sink or safety shower for at least 15 minutes. If inhalation exposure occurs, move to fresh air immediately. Notify supervisor and seek medical evaluation. Report the exposure utilizint the Employee Incident Reporting System.
    10. Spills
    11. Spills of formaldehyde can be classified as either a minor (less than 100mL) cleanup procedure or a major spill. Based on prior evaluation, it is not anticipated that minor spill cleanup wil expose laboratory/clinical employees to signifcant additional exposure. Minor spills should be cleaned up immediately by staff wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. Major spill cleanup should not be attempted by laboratory/clinical personnel. Contact Public Safety (585-275-3333 or extension 13) to arrange for the University's Spill Response Team.


Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 8/12/2022. Disclaimer.