Go onto the U.S. Department of Labor’s website and you will find much to read about what OSHA is attempting to do to reduce the exposure of workers to chromium, and more particularly hexavalent chromium, a dangerous and potentially life-threatening product. Industrial processes that involve chromium can result in worker exposure to toxic hexavalent chromium. It is estimated that 558,000 workers are potentially exposed to hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] in the United States. Job tasks that may expose workers to Cr(VI) include spray painting, sanding, grinding and abrasive blasting.
A major source of worker exposure to hexavalent chromium occurs during “hot work” such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal. Hexavalent chromium compounds may be used as pigments in dyes, paints, inks, and plastics. It also may be used as an anti-corrosive agent added to paints, primers, and other surface coatings. The Cr(VI) compound chromic acid is used to electroplate chromium onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating. Chromium metal is added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance.
Hexavalent chromium targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes. It is known to cause lung cancer and nasal and sinus cancer. Other health effects of exposure include eye, nose and throat irritation , nasal septum ulcerations and perforations, gastritis, gastrointestinal ulcers, contact dermatitis, irritation, ulcers, and sensitization from skin contact.
Requirements to protect workers from hexavalent chromium exposure are addressed in specific OSHA hexavalent chromium standards covering general industry (1910.1026), shipyards (1915.1026), and construction (1926.1126). The Labor Department’s website lists a number of suggestions to reduce workers’ exposure.
So far this year OSHA has published at least 4 Fact Sheets concerning hexavalent chromium. These Fact Sheets involve hazards in bridge painting, aerospace and air transport painting, electroplating and to welding.
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