Formaldehyde safety exposed

After 8 years of work examining exposure to formaldehyde and safety associated with exposure to formaldehyde, Safe Work Australia has released a report recommending that the allowable concentration of formaldehyde be dropped from 1 part per million to 0.1 part/s per million.

As many members would be aware, anatomical and histology pathology scientists regularly work with formaldehyde in the course of doing cut up and dissection of tissue samples.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and Pathology Australia have opposed lowering the allowable concentration levels of formaldehyde because they say this will reduce the efficacy of results relating to cancer diagnosis and diagnosis of a range of tissue diseases. Further, the RCPA argues there are no adverse outcomes for scientists exposed to the existing allowable concentration of 1 part per million.

In effect the RCPA and Pathology Australia argue there are no adverse impacts for people working with a known hazardous substance. Yet they haven’t consulted with any scientists working in anatomical or histological pathology laboratories or consulted with the Union about their claims.

The Union is also very aware of the importance of formaldehyde in the process of diagnosing cancers and other tissue diseases. The Union, like the RCPA and Pathology Australia, does not want to see the important work our members do being jeopardized or see pathology laboratories closed because of Safe Work Australia’s proposed lowering of the allowable concentration of formaldehyde.

Given Safe Work Australia’s decided there is an identifiable hazard in the use of and exposure to formaldehyde, hazard reduction needs to be the primary aim rather than simply continuing to use a known hazardous substance.

The Union believes that in addition to the question of lowering the concentration of formaldehyde, more work needs to be done to address safety issues highlighted by the work conducted by Safe Work Australia; for example, upgraded and improved ventilation within pathology laboratories and/or investigating and examining alternative chemicals for tissue cut up and dissection.

Scientists working in cut-up areas in pathology labs face the risk of any harmful effects of formaldehyde exposure. Resolution of this issue must ensure that their health and safety is guaranteed above all other considerations.

We would like feedback on this issue from members across health services, so please let us know your thoughts and experiences as soon as possible –

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