The alliance partnership aims to provide information, guidance, and access to training resources to members, occupational physicians, stakeholders, and others in the polyurethanes value chain.

New Alliance Focused on Diisocyanates

OSHA and the American Chemistry Council have joined in a two-year alliance to raise awareness of workers' exposure hazards and promote the chemicals' safe use in the polyurethane industry.

OSHA and the American Chemistry Council announced a new alliance in September that will raise awareness of how workers are exposed to diisocyanates and promote safe practices for their use in the polyurethane industry. These are raw materials used to make polyurethane products, such as insulation, car seats, and foam mattresses, and respiratory and dermal exposures can result in irritation of the skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. More serious health effects include asthma and other lung problems, according to OSHA.

According to EPA, diisocyanates are well-known dermal and inhalation sensitizers in the workplace and have been documented to cause asthma and lung damage, but the ACC Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI) says manufacturers, in partnership with downstream users, have implemented product stewardship activities that have contributed to a reduction in diisocyanate-related asthma cases, even as production rates of diisocyanates have increased.

The alliance calls for the creation of a web-based training program on the safe use and handling of chemicals and the potential routes of exposure for users. The partners will develop guidance on medical surveillance and clinical evaluation techniques for employers and workers using the chemicals, and their agreement calls for best practices seminars on health and safety procedures for OSHA, On-Site Consultation, and State Plan staffers.

"OSHA's new alliance with ACC will help ensure that employers and employees who work with the identified chemicals better understand the health hazards associated with these potentially hazardous chemicals and the methods to control employee exposures," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.

Three groups from ACC will lead the work with OSHA: CPI and the Diisocyanates and Aliphatic Diisocyanates panels. According to ACC, members of these groups include manufacturers and distributors of chemicals and equipment used to make polyurethane, and CPI serves as the voice of the polyurethanes industry, covering more than 220,000 workers nationwide.

"We're thrilled to be working with OSHA on making American workplaces even safer, which has always been a top priority for CPI and ACC as a whole," said Lee Salamone, senior director of CPI. "Our partnership with OSHA will build on our strong foundation of product stewardship and outreach and will help us identify additional areas of emphasis so we can better target our activities."

The two organizations' agreement, signed Sept. 13, says the alliance partnership aims to provide information, guidance, and access to training resources to members, occupational physicians, stakeholders, and others in the polyurethanes value chain.

"The chemical industry is committed to safety, and this partnership supports our continuing efforts to enhance worker protection," said Sahar Osman-Sypher, director of DII and ADI. "The partnership will work toward further educating workers and employers on how to use diisocyanates safely in their everyday working environment."

ACC's announcement indicated the two-year alliance has three primary goals: raising awareness of OSHA’s rulemaking and enforcement initiatives; conducting training to educate employers, workers, and OSHA officials on safety issues; and developing effective outreach and communication efforts to increase the visibility of the partnership and its goals.

Goals Include Promoting Industry-wide Use of Medical Surveillance
The OSHA page explaining the alliance1 says it will provide information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help stakeholders protect the health and safety of workers, "particularly by: 1) illustrating methods for reducing and preventing exposure to aliphatic and aromatic diisocyanates (MDI, TDI, HDI, HMDI, and IPDI); 2) providing a better understanding of the health issues, routes of exposure, and medical surveillance/clinical evaluation techniques related to diisocyanates; and 3) understanding the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)."

It explains that the goals of the alliance include:

  • sharing information on OSHA’s National Emphasis Programs, regulatory agenda, and opportunities to participate in the rulemaking process
  • promoting, through seminars and workshops, industry-wide use of medical surveillance programs
  • encouraging employers to develop new programs or enhance existing ones, including Safety and Health Management Systems.
  • speaking, exhibiting, or appearing at OSHA or ACC conferences, local meetings, or other regional events

Also, OSHA offers a fact sheet2 about work-related asthma from isocyanate exposure. It says these chemicals "are one of the most common chemical causes of work-related asthma," which can cause long-term lung damage, disability, or death.

The fact sheet points out that work-related asthma can develop over any period of time, from days to years; that it is possible to develop work-related asthma even in a workplace equipped with protective equipment such as exhaust ventilation and respirators; and that, before working with isocyanates or any other asthma-causing substances, workers should ask their employer for training as required by OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard.

It says typical jobs and tasks where exposures to isocyanates can occur include:

  • car manufacture and repair
  • building construction (plaster, insulation)
  • foam blowing and cutting
  • painting
  • truck bed liner application
  • foundry work (casting)
  • textile, rubber, and plastic manufacturing
  • printing
  • furniture manufacturing
  • electric cable insulation

The fact sheet recommends that clinicians obtain a patient's detailed medical history, document a history of occupational exposures, perform pulmonary function testing in accord with American Thoracic Society standards, and consider referring the patient to an occupational medicine, pulmonary, or allergy specialist for supplemental testing.

For More Information
ACC's Center for the Polyurethanes Industry offers information about the potential health effects of diisocyanate exposure and worker protections, including respiratory PPE and the use of engineering controls, at https://polyurethane.americanchemistry.com/Health-Safety-and-Product-Stewardship/.

References
1. https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/alliances/acc/acc.html
2. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3707.pdf

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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