OSHA Launches Diacetyl Program

OSHA is launching a national emphasis program to address the hazards and control measures associated with working in the microwave popcorn industry.

“We recognize that there are potential occupational health hazards associated with butter flavorings containing diacetyl,” OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. said. “Under this program, OSHA will target inspection resources to those workplaces where we anticipate the highest employee exposures to these hazards.”

According to OSHA, the national emphasis program will apply to all workplaces where butter-flavored microwave popcorn is being manufactured. In addition the program will provide direction on inspection targeting and procedures, methods of controlling the hazard and compliance assistance.

OSHA has stated that the 24 states and two U.S. territories that operate their own OSHA programs are encouraged, but not required, to adopt a similar emphasis program.

Unions Want an Emergency Standard

The issue of diacetyl came to light when two unions – the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters – petitioned OSHA to pass an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from exposure to diacetyl.

According to the two unions, OSHA has not adequately responded to "compelling scientific evidence" indicating that exposure to diacetyl is harmful. The unions want the agency to institute regulations that would mandate companies to heed the warnings made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other studies confirming the dangers of diacetyl. (For more, read “OSHA Urged to Issue Worker Safety Standard for Popcorn Flavoring.”)

The labor groups also have appealed to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). The state agency reportedly is working with labor unions and industry representatives on a regulation that would require employers to install chemical vapor controls in flavoring plants and, perhaps, food processing plants and bakeries that use the artificial flavorings.

California lawmakers are proposing a bill that would ban diacetyl in the workplace by 2010.

A January 2006 investigative report released by NIOSH revealed that several employees from a microwave popcorn facility were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans – a severe obstructive lung disease. Following a number of lung-function tests and air sampling, NIOSH determined that inhalation exposure to butter flavoring chemicals is a risk for occupational lung disease.

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