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June 30, 2020
NIOSH compiles disinfectant safety, health hazard information

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently collected safety and health information on cleaners and disinfectants that employers can use in their hazard communication programs. The NIOSH material includes a table of health hazards and protective measures for chemicals used as disinfectants.

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When used according to manufacturers’ instructions, cleaners and disinfectants can be effective control measures for infectious diseases, including Ebola and influenza. Guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have referred employers and building owners to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “List N” of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

 COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 currently is widespread in most U.S. communities and considered a workplace hazard.

Some of the chemicals on the EPA’s list have health or flammability hazards. The NIOSH table includes the following information for several commonly used disinfectants:

  • The chemical name and common names for that chemical,
  • The chemical abstract service number (CAS No.),
  • Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) pictograms,
  • Health and flammability-related hazard statements,
  • Recommended glove barriers, and
  • Recommended respiratory protection.

OSHA’s hazard communication standard (HCS), often referred to as “worker right-to-know” (29 CFR §1910.1200), requires that employees be informed of potential work hazards and trained on associated safe practices, procedures, and protective measures. Employers must ensure employees have access to cleaning products’ safety data sheets (SDSs) and are informed of potential hazards and trained on the associated safe practices as detailed in the products’ SDSs. In healthcare facilities, employers also should comply with the 2008 Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) guidelines recommending that each worker be informed of the possible health effects of exposures to chemicals in the workplace.

Employees specifically need to be informed of documented health risks from exposure to hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid, and peracetic acid, as well as chemicals found in other cleaners.

In addition to hazard communication requirements for labels, SDSs, and training, employers need to maintain sufficient ventilation in areas where chemicals are used, as well as provide any protective clothing, gloves, or safety goggles needed.

Employers need to consider factors in the use of cleaners and disinfectants, including:

  • Chemical ingredients of the cleaning product;
  • How the cleaning product is being used or stored;
  • Ventilation in the area where the cleaning product is used;
  • Whether there are splashes and spills;
  • Whether the cleaning product comes in contact with the skin; and
  • Whether mists, vapors, and/or gases are released.

Poison control centers have seen an increased number of calls about exposures to cleaners and disinfectants since the pandemic began. The CDC released a report noting that calls to U.S. poison control centers about cleaner and disinfectant exposures increased 20 percent the first 3 months of 2020. The first U.S. laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on January 19, and the CDC recommended proper cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces to help mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

From January 2020 to March 2020, poison control centers received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants—an increase of 20.4 percent from January 2019 to March 2019 and 16.4 percent from January 2018 to March 2018.

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