Cal/OSHA continues to be a national leader in worker safety by implementing a new standard today to protect employees who work with diacetyl, a chemical commonly used to give food flavorings a buttery taste. Cal/OSHA, a division of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), is the only state-OSHA plan to have such a standard.
"The diacetyl standard is the latest example of how Cal/OSHA is on the forefront of worker safety," said DIR Director John C. Duncan. "We have taken the lead on this issue from day one and have worked closely with national medical experts as well as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to get to this point. We refuse to wait until more workers suffer serious lung ailments to take action. At this time, not even Federal OSHA has a safety regulation for diacetyl, but we hope that this standard will serve as a model for them to follow."
The new standard, section 5197 of the California Code of Regulations, requires employers covered by the standard to create a regulated area for each process using diacetyl, unless the process is enclosed. Employers must also provide safeguards for employees who work with diacetyl at certain concentrations. These safety measures include creating a written diacetyl control program, periodic monitoring of exposure levels and providing personal protective equipment, respirators, training, and medical surveillance at no cost to employees. The standard goes into effect today.
"Diacetyl, a chemical that is harmless when it occurs naturally or as an ingredient in many of the foods we eat, can be dangerous in industrial settings where flavorings or foods are manufactured because it is used in much higher concentrations that allow it to get into the air that workers breathe," said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. "Cal/OSHA has issued citations in the past related to exposure to diacetyl, but this comprehensive standard will allow us to better target our enforcement efforts."
Workers from two California flavoring companies that use diacetyl have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans -- inflammation and scarring of the small airways that can result in permanent and life threatening narrowing of the airways. A number of employees nationwide who have been exposed to diacetyl have developed the serious respiratory illness which in some cases has resulted in patients being placed on lung transplant wait lists or dying. Symptoms include persistent dry cough, shortness of breath when using extra energy, and wheezing. Workers' Compensation Acts provide some benefits for those exposed.
Cal/OSHA Consultation also works to protect employees from dangerous food-flavoring chemicals. Consultation initiated its Flavor Industry Safety and Health Evaluation Program (FISHEP) in 2006 to provide assistance to California food flavor manufacturing companies. Consultation staff conducted mandatory onsite evaluations and consultations with 28 California companies that use pure flavoring ingredients to manufacture food flavors.