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Department of Labor Cites Beauty Salons for Exposing Clients to Formaldehyde

formaldehyde in hair straightening productsThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is continuing its campaign to protect workers from potentially toxic effects of formaldehyde exposure.

Last month, OSHA fined two salons for neglecting to adopt safety measures that would have protected workers from formaldehyde exposure when applying hair-smoothing products to their clients. Formaldehyde irritates the eyes and nose, causes allergic reactions in the skin, eyes, and lungs, poses the risk of cancer. Salon managers who use products that contain and release formaldehyde are required to adhere to OSHA’s formaldehyde and hazard communication standards to protect their workers.

Read more here about Formaldehyde in Hair Smoothing Products.

In a statement from the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels said “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. 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.’”

OSHA has regularly responded to complaints of formaldehyde exposure in salons and beauty schools. In 2011 alone, OSHA issued citations to 23 salon owners and beauty schools in eight different states, with fines running as high as $17,500 for failing to protect workers from overexposure to formaldehyde.

Practices that increase the risk of workplace injury or occupational disease include neglecting to communicate the risks of formaldehyde exposure, failing to provide essential protective equipment, and failing to test air quality in a facility. The requirements pertaining to OSHA formaldehyde standards can be viewed on the agency website.  In three of the salons cited, OSHA tests indicated that workers had been exposed to formaldehyde levels above the 15-minute short-term exposure limit, which is 2 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air. In one case, OSHA determined that a hairstylist came in contact with more than 5 times the maximum level allowed by OSHA.

“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 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.”

OSHA is in the process of a significant outreach effort to salons, beauty schools and manufacturers to educate them about the health risks of hair smoothing products. In September 2011, OSHA sent a second hazard alert to hair salons and workers about the hazards of formaldehyde exposure from hair smoothing and straightening products. That alert was partially occasioned by results of agency inspections, and misleading or entirely false information sent to salons by “Brazilian Blowout,” one of the most popular and widely-used producers of hair straightening products.

In August of 2011, Brazilian Blowout had sent letters to salon owners falsely claiming that OSHA air tests of the “Brazilian Blowout Professional Acai Smoothing Solution” consistently showed results below OSHA’s exposure standards.  OSHA immediately responded with a letter refuting that claim.

Small businesses in Washington and across the U.S. should consider using OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program, which offers free and confidential advice for employers who want to identify and reduce workplace hazards and improve worker safety and health. In 2010, the program provided free assistance to over 30,000 businesses nationwide, reaching more than 1.5 million workers in the process.Formaldehyde levels graph

The Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA has stated that these consultation services are “separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations.  Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing safety and health management systems.”

If you are employed in a salon and believe you have been exposed to formaldehyde, contact a Seattle Employment Attorney or a Washington workers’ compensation attorney for help with your claim.


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Emery Reddy