OSHA's Small Business Guide for Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is used extensively by hospitals and other industries as a
sterilizing agent. EtO is a colorless, odorless gas, which is both flammable
and highly reactive. Most importantly, you cannot smell EtO until it reaches
levels that can cause serious harm to human health (NIOSH, 1989). Human and
animal studies consistently show that EtO can be hazardous to human health.
Short-term exposures to EtO can cause respiratory irritation and lung injury,
shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long-term
exposure over many years may cause cancer, reproductive effects, genetic
changes, and damage to the nervous system (LaMontagne et al., 1990).

The purpose of this guidance document is to help employers understand the EtO
standard, with particular emphasis on how to monitor the quality of the air in
workplaces where EtO is processed, used, or handled. Air monitoring is an
important activity that can help alert employers when unsafe levels of EtO are
present in the air so they can take steps to reduce employee exposure. EtO can
be used more safely if appropriate precautions are taken and if equipment is
adequately designed and maintained. This document:

  • Clarifies the different types of EtO exposure monitoring.

  • Reviews the exposure monitoring requirements in OSHAs EtO standard.

  • Lists and explains the exposure levels used by OSHA.

  • Provides an overview of actions required when monitoring shows that employees
    are exposed to EtO at levels exceeding the allowable limits.

  • Outlines the monitoring decisions you need to make when employees work in
    areas where EtO is present.

More info (PDF: 14,2 MB) - Source: U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration