New OSHA National Emphasis Program on Isocyanates


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has announced a new National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) to protect workers from the health effects from occupational exposure to isocyanates. With the addition of this program, OSHA has thirteen (13) currently active NEPs, including programs on PSM Covered Chemical Facilities, Lead, Nursing and Residential Care Facilities, and Primary Metals Industries.

According to the new NEP, workers in a wide range of industries and occupations are exposed to at least one of the numerous isocyanates known to be associated with work-related asthma. OSHA has identified jobs that may involve exposure to isocyanates to include painting, blowing foam insulation, and the manufacture and thermal degradation of many polyurethane products such as polyurethane foam, insulation materials, surface coatings, car seats, furniture, foam mattresses, under-carpet padding, packaging materials, shoes, laminated fabrics, polyurethane rubber, and adhesives.

A list of relevant industries (by Standard Industrial Classification (“SIC”)/North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS”) codes) where isocyanate exposures are known to occur is attached in Appendix A to the NEP.

The isocyanates NEP is effective June 20, 2013 and will be in effect for three (3) years. We have highlighted the following provisions of the new NEP.

Targeting of General Industry, Maritime, and Construction Companies

  • Appendix A to the NEP contains a primary list of general industry and maritime sectors (by SIC/NAICS codes) where overexposures to isocyanates are known to occur, and exposures have been demonstrated to be above an OSHA permissible exposure limit (“PEL”) or an occupational exposure limit (“OEL”). Regarding OELs, they are non-regulatory advisory limits, such as RELs or TLVs. A secondary list includes other industries where exposures to isocyanates are also known to occur but where worker overexposures to isocyanates may not have been documented.
  • Appendix A also contains a list of construction industries (by SIC/NAICS codes) where worker exposure to isocyanates is likely to occur.

Site Selection

  • For general industry and maritime inspections, the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis (“DEA”) of the Office of Statistics will prepare a master inspection list for each OSHA Area Office using the most current employer listing for the SIC/NAICS industries on the primary list in Appendix A. If the area office has inspected all potential establishments in their jurisdiction with SIC/NAICS codes on the primary list, the Area Office may then contact the DEA to generate additional establishments for inspection using the secondary list.
  • For construction inspections, when an OSHA compliance officer inspects a construction site and determines that a company or operation is classified under one of the construction-related SIC/NAICS codes listed in Appendix A, the NEP inspection will then occur.
  • The Area Office will create inspection cycles of five (5) or more establishments. Each Area Office must conduct at least three (3) inspections per year. Subsequent cycles will be created in the same manner until the expiration of the NEP or until all establishments on the list have been assigned to a cycle.


  • During the NEP inspection, the employer’s injury and illness records will be reviewed to determine if injuries and illnesses related to isocyanate exposures have been recorded, including any work-related cases of asthma.

Exposure Assessments

  • Inspections conducted under the NEP will include an evaluation of the employer’s controls (engineering controls, administrative and work practice controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE)) where potential exposures to isocyanates are present.
  • Personal air samples will be collected during inspections conducted under the NEP. Additionally, wipe samples may also be obtained based on dermal exposure. If wipe sampling reveals surface contamination or dermal exposure, OSHA may issue citations under the housekeeping or PPE standards.

Citation Guidelines

  • Where inhalation exposure to an isocyanate exceeds the OSHA PEL set forth in 29 CFR 1910.1000(a), Table Z-1, without regard to the use of respiratory protection, the compliance officer shall generally issue a “serious” citation. Where an overexposure exists and feasible engineering and/or administrative controls were not utilized or were ineffective, the compliance officer shall generally issue another citation under 29 CFR 1910.1000(e) and group it with the overexposure citation.
  • Where workers are exposed to a particular isocyanate having an established OEL, but no OSHA PEL, the compliance officer may consider issuing a citation for exposure in excess of the OEL under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • At the opening conference, the OSHA compliance officer shall review the employer’s hazard assessment to determine compliance with the applicable PPE regulations. The PPE evaluation shall include appropriate (i) protective clothing (e.g., coveralls, foot coverings); (ii) eye and/or face protection; (iii) respiratory protection; and (iv) chemical-resistant gloves (e.g., butyl, nitrile).

Hazard Communication

  • A determination of whether an employer’s hazard communication program complies with 29 CFR 1910.1200 will include consideration by the OSHA compliance officer of the training the employer provides to employees regarding the hazards associated with isocyanates.


  • During the inspection, the employer’s methods for ensuring adequate housekeeping will be evaluated and documented.


  • Under the NEP, each Area, Regional, and Consultation Program Office is encouraged to develop outreach programs. Such programs can include letters to employers, professional associations, local safety councils, apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, and other employer organizations for workplaces that have potential exposures to isocyanates or provide medical assistance in treating workers’ illnesses associated with exposure to isocyanate.

Based on this new NEP, employers who use materials containing isocyanates should carefully audit their practices identified in the NEP to ensure they are in compliance. For more information, please contact the Haynes and Boone attorney with whom you work or any of the following attorneys in the firm’s OSHA and Workplace Disasters Practice Group:

Matthew T. Deffebach

Punam Kaji

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