Arsenic is a naturally-occurring metal that is found in the earth's crust. While its toxic properties have been known for centuries - it was the poison of choice for many ancient rulers who maneuvered to get in power or stay in power - arsenic's chemical properties make it an attractive raw ingredient in various industries including shipbuilding (blasting media and metal coatings may contain arsenic), construction (pressure-treated wood contains chromated copper arsenate), and semiconductor (gallium arsenide is used to manufacture diodes and other components). In addition, some arsenic-containing pesticides and herbicides are used today despite regulations that prohibit or restrict their use.
Arsenic injures and/or kills the cells in our bodies by one of several different physiological mechanisms. This explains why it is capable of damaging virtually every organ system. Arsenic can cause skin lesions, peripheral neuropathy, kidney and liver damage, and cardiac problems such as capillary leakage and cardiomyopathy. In addition, arsenic exposures are associated with increased numbers of miscarriages and birth defects. Finally, it is a confirmed human carcinogen that increases the risk of lung, skin, and bladder cancer.
It's important to point out that not all arsenic compounds have equal toxicity. Generally speaking, inorganic arsenic compounds are much more toxic than organic compounds. OSHA, in accordance with this disparity, regulates exposures to Inorganic Arsenic in the Standard 29 CFR 1910.1018.
The Standard begins by requiring employers to use engineering and work practice controls to maintain exposures below the Permissible Action Limit (PEL) of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3). Respirators can supplement the engineering and work practice controls only if these other approaches do not reduce exposures below the PEL.
The Standard has other important requirements, including:
- Establishing regulated areas when exposures exceed the PEL
- Developing and implementing a written Compliance Plan
- Complying with OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard (if respirators are needed to control exposures below the PEL)
- Providing protective work clothing and equipment
- Complying with housekeeping requirements (including following specific cleaning methods)
- Establishing hygiene facilities (change rooms, lunch rooms, etc.) and work practices
- Instituting a medical surveillance program for employees exposed over OSHA's Action Level of 5 ug/m3 at least 30 days per year
- Communicating arsenic's hazards by way of OSHA's Hazard Communication Program and posting signs in regulated areas
As you can see, the OSHA Standard has many specific requirements for companies that handle inorganic arsenic. While they may seem daunting, remember that they not only protect your workers, but they protect you and your company as well.
Do you need help evaluating worker exposures to inorganic arsenic or other harmful agents in the workplace? Are you in full compliance with OSHA's Inorganic Arsenic Standard - and all the standards that apply to your company? Cashins can help you with all of your Industrial Hygiene and employee safety needs. Click on the "Request an EH&S Assessment Online" button at the right and we'll let you know how we can help you!