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The dangers of formaldehyde exposure in the workplace

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2021 | Workers' Compensation |

California residents may associate formaldehyde with mortuaries and funeral homes, but the colorless substance is also found in many common building and household products. Brief exposure to low levels of formaldehyde is generally considered harmless, but prolonged or severe exposure cause extreme eye and throat irritation and has been linked to cancer. The substance can be inhaled as a gas or absorbed through the skin as a liquid, and breathing in small amounts of it on a daily basis can cause skin problems like dermatitis and respiratory symptoms similar to asthma.

OSHA standards

This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a standard of 0.75 parts of formaldehyde for every million parts of air. This is a time-weighted average of over eight hours. OSHA also allows workers to be exposed to up to two parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air for up to 15 minutes. Employers can reduce the risks of formaldehyde exposure by rotating workers who use products containing the substance and improving their ventilation and extraction systems. Employees who become sick after being exposed to formaldehyde are usually entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they take time off to recover.

Hair salons

The problem is that formaldehyde is used in many environments that would not normally be considered hazardous. This means employers in these industries may not be aware of the risks. In 2016, advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration that called for a ban on formaldehyde and substances that release formaldehyde in hair-straightening products. Keratin gels and creams contain methylene glycol, which releases formaldehyde gas at levels exceeding OSHA standards when it is heated during the hair-straightening process. This poses a significant danger to both salon workers and their customers.

Workers’ compensation appeals

Workers’ compensation claims filed by people who developed illnesses after being exposed to toxic substances are often challenged by employers or denied by insurance companies. This often happens because employers or insurers are worried about opening the door for similar claims. If your workers’ compensation claim was denied, an attorney with experience in this area could file a Petition for Reconsideration on your behalf. If the denial is not overturned by the California Division of Worker’s Compensation, an attorney may appeal the decision in court.