Formaldehyde, a highly volatile and toxic compound that poses a substantial threat to human health, is commonly found in and released by certain hair-smoothing products used by salons. But despite the known dangers and the federal laws designed to protect salon workers from the dangers of formaldehyde, regulators are finding salon workers are regularly exposed to the substance.
“We want to make sure that salon owners are aware that if they use these products, they have to implement protective measures such as air monitoring and training,” said Dr. David Michaels, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Assistant Secretary of Labor. “What is very troubling to the agency is that some of these products clearly expose workers to formaldehyde even when the label states they are ‘formaldehyde free.'”
Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and nose; cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and lungs; and is a significant cancer hazard. Salons that choose to use products that may contain or release formaldehyde are required to abide by OSHA’s formaldehyde and hazard communication standards to keep workers safe.
However, the agency said it continues to respond to complaints about formaldehyde exposure in salons, beauty schools, and manufacturing facilities. In 2011, OSHA issued citations to 223 hair salon owners and beauty schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio with some fines topping $17,000 for failing to protect workers from potential exposure to formaldehyde and overexposure to formaldehyde.
Violations OSHA inspectors found in salons include failure to communicate the hazards of formaldehyde exposure, failure to provide needed protective equipment to workers, and failure to test the air’s formaldehyde levels. OSHA says that its inspections uncovered some instances in which stylists were exposed to levels of formaldehyde several times the maximum allowable limit, exposure times that exceeded the federally mandated 15-minute limit, and concentrations of formaldehyde in the air that went far above the 2.0 parts per million parts of air maximum.
In hair-product manufacturing and distribution facilities, OSHA inspectors found violations that included failing to protect workers from formaldehyde exposure in addition to not communicating the hazards of formaldehyde exposure to salons, stylists, and consumers. In some cases, the companies failed to list formaldehyde as a hazardous ingredient on the material safety data sheet, the hazard warning sheet provided to users such as salon owners and stylists, or include the required warnings on product labels.
“The best way to control exposure to formaldehyde is to use products that do not contain formaldehyde. Salons should check the label or product information to make sure it does not list formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol or any of the other names for formaldehyde,” said Dr. Michaels. “If salon owners decide to use products that contain or release formaldehyde, then they must follow a number of protective practices — including air monitoring, worker training and, if levels are over OSHA limits, good ventilation or respirators.”