The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a new National Emphasis Program to protect workers from serious health effects from occupational exposure to isocyanates. Isocyanates are compounds containing the isocyanate group (NCO). They react with compounds containing alcohol (hydroxyl) groups to produce polyurethane polymers, which are components of polyurethane foams. Jobs that may involve exposure to isocyanates include foam blowing, the manufacture of many Polyurethane products, such as chemicals, polyurethane foam, and insulation materials.
OSHA develops national emphasis programs to focus outreach efforts and inspections on specific hazards in an industry for a three-year period. They will focus on workplaces in general, construction, and maritime industries that use isocyanate compounds in an effort to reduce occupational illnesses and deaths.
“Workers exposed to isocyanates can suffer debilitating health problems for months or even years after exposure,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Through this program, OSHA will strengthen protection for workers exposed to isocyanates.”
Health effects of isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficult breathing. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of hazardous exposures are occupational asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.