OSHA's Isocyanates Emphasis Program

HR Resource
August 16, 2013 — 2,423 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

Organizations, especially those with hazardous conditions, have an obligation to save their workers from occupational hazards. While workers get compensation against accidents, it is more important to prevent hazards and make conditions of work safer for them. For instance, workers in the paints and varnish industry are exposed to isocyanates threat which can be extremely dangerous. The exposure to this chemical must be distinguished from airborne pathogens which are preventable in a number of ways.

What are Isocyanates? 

The compounds belonging to the isocyanate group react with a group of compounds containing alcohol resulting in polyurethane polymers. These polymers are extensively used in the preparation of polyurethane paints, spandex fibers, thermoplastic elastomers, and polyurethane foams. A group of chemicals called isocyanates are extensively used in industrial processing. They are dangerous chemicals posing threat to the lives and well being of workers in industries using varnishes, and paints, as in building insulation and auto repair. They are very likely to cause cancer, irritation of throat, nose, eyes and skin, and asthma.

Asthmatic deaths have commonly occurred due to the exposure to this chemical resulting in hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The exposure to this chemical also leads to respiratory illnesses. There are hundreds of jobs involving millions of workers who could be exposed to this dangerous chemical. Some of these jobs include sprays required on polyurethane products such as car seats and mattresses, and protective coatings required on desk, boats and truck beds.

In other words, this chemical is extensively used in modern industries in the complete knowledge and evidence that they can cause permanent disability or even death. The workers exposed to this chemical are likely to suffer severe health problems for months or even years after the exposure.

New Emphasis Program by OSHA on Isocyanates

In a recent newsletter OSHA has announced a new program designed to address the threat to workers from this dangerous chemical. This new announcement about the national emphasis program is a welcome development from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The NEPs focus on inspections and outreach efforts for a period of three years. The new program aims to reduce illnesses related to occupations and deaths. The focus of inspection will be industries in maritime and construction sector as well as workplaces that use this chemical compound. The new program came into effect on June 20, 2013 and will be in effect for the next three years.   

An extensive list of targeted industries and sectors exist in the new program for the purpose of inspection. The NEP’s Appendix A is a list of maritime sectors and general industry evidenced with exposure limit above the permissible level. There also exists a secondary list of industries with exposure to this chemical compound but workers’ exposure remains undocumented. The Appendix A also has a construction industry list where exposure is a distinct possibility.  

The NEP inspection will look into the records of illness and injury maintained by employers to determine if the records related to injuries and illnesses including asthma caused by the exposure to isocyanate compounds have been recorded and maintained. The inspection will look into the controls and protections maintained by the employer against the exposure. Air samples will also be collected for the purpose of examination as well as wipe samples based on dermal exposure will also be collected. If determined positive, citations under PPE standards may be issued.

HR Resource