What should employers know about ethylene oxide?

Take preventative measures against ethylene oxide (EtO) to protect workers who handle products such as adhesives, detergents, and solvents. This colorless, flammable gas can impact work environments with temperatures above 51.3°F (10.7°C), and smells like ether at toxic levels. The compound is also used during the sterilization of surgical equipment at hospitals, fumigating, and ensuring the decontamination of cosmetics.

While this gas might be helpful in a variety of work settings, it is important to safeguard employees from prolonged exposure. Studies have found that EtO can cause immediate and long-term effects including eye pain, headache, nausea, nerve damage, muscle weakness, and impaired memory.

Effectively monitoring and limiting exposure to this hazard can reduce the risks to employees' health and safety. Developing and following a compliance program can be helpful, and would allow employees to learn about the compound and how it might affect health.

Equipping workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as personal gas monitoring badges and the appropriate respiratory protection to guard against EtO exposure and improve occupational health and safety.

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