The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is issuing a hazard alert to hair salon owners and workers about potential formaldehyde exposure from working with some hair smoothing and straightening products.
The hazard alert, available on OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/formaldehyde/hazard_alert.html, provides information about OSHA's investigations, the health hazards of formaldehyde and how to protect people who are working with hair smoothing and straightening products.
Responding to complaints and referrals about possible exposure to formaldehyde, federal OSHA and many state occupational safety and health agencies are conducting investigations. Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Connecticut's Department of Public Health, and agencies in several other states already have issued warnings.
Federal OSHA has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists used hair smoothing products, some of which do not have formaldehyde listed on their labels or in material safety data sheets as required by law. During one investigation, the agency's air tests showed formaldehyde at levels greater than OSHA's limits for a salon, even though the product tested was labeled as formaldehyde-free. California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued violations to an importer and distributer of smoothing products labeled formaldehyde-free for failing to list formaldehyde as a hazardous ingredient on the company's product labels and in the material safety data sheets.
Formaldehyde presents a health hazard if workers are exposed. It can irritate the eyes and nose; cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and lungs; and is linked to nose and lung cancer.
OSHA requires manufacturers, importers and distributors of products that contain formaldehyde as a gas or in solution, or that can release formaldehyde during use, to include information about formaldehyde and its hazards on product labels and in the material safety data sheets that are sent to employers.
"Workers have the right to know the risks associated with the chemicals with which they work, and how to protect themselves," said federal OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "Employers need to know these risks in order to ensure the safety and health of their employees."
To eliminate potential worker exposure, OSHA recommends that salon owners use products that do not contain formaldehyde, methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene or Chemical Abstract Service Number 50-00-0.
If a salon owner decides to continue using a formaldehyde-containing hair smoothing product, then he or she must follow OSHA's formaldehyde standard. Important requirements of this standard include conducting air monitoring, installing ventilation where needed and training workers about formaldehyde, as well as providing protective equipment such as gloves, chemical splash goggles, face shields and chemical resistant aprons.
The material safety data sheet includes important information about what a product contains and how the ingredients can affect a worker's health. Salon owners and other employers must have a material safety data sheet for any of the products they use that contain hazardous chemicals. They must also make the sheet available to stylists and other workers.
OSHA currently has a number of ongoing investigations at salons and of importers/distributors/manufacturers relating to hair smoothing and straightening products. Some citations have been issued.