January 23, 2003
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Hazard Alerts have been updated on the Health Canada web site http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hecs-sesc/whmis/hazard_alerts.htm

Hazard alerts and related documents are issued by occupational health and safety (OHS) agencies to advise workers, employers and health and safety professionals of those workplace incidents involving occupational hazards requiring immediate attention. Hazard alerts describe these incidents, the identified occupational hazards and communicate prescribed workplace safety guidelines and practices to prevent and reduce future occurrences of similar workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

The web site provides a listing of chemical and biological substances for which hazard alerts have been issued by Canadian Occupational Health and Safety agencies as well as those issued by the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).


As the result of an investigation that teamed researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with management and employees at a label printing plant, two chemicals in a widely used category of compounds were associated for the first time with a risk for job-related visual disturbances. The findings led to practical recommendations for reducing exposures to the chemicals ­ DMIPA and DMAE ­ and protecting employees' vision.

NIOSH, a part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), describes the study in a technical article in the January 2003 issue of the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine (http://oem.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/60/1/69).

The company requested NIOSH's assistance when several employees in the printing production area reported intermittent blurred vision. Although the employees' vision typically improved within several hours after leaving work, the blurring posed a safety hazard while the workers were on the job operating machinery, and while they were driving home. The condition occurred intermittently and unpredictably, and was beginning to happen more frequently. One employee had been examined by an ophthalmologist who found a "film over his eyes."

NIOSH's subsequent investigation determined that the condition was linked with exposure to dimethylisopropanolamine, or DMIPA, a component of an additive used to thin ink. NIOSH also found an association with dimethylaminoethanol, or DMAE, a component of water-based inks. Both compounds are tertiary amines, a type of chemical widely found in solvents, chemical intermediates, catalysts, preservatives, drugs, and herbicides. The number of employees reporting blurred vision, the number with film or opacities on the cornea, and the severity of the opacity increased with corresponding exposure to the compounds. Neither compound previously had been reported to cause visual disturbances in humans.

With the participation of management and employees, NIOSH identified the association through intensive legwork on several fronts ­ measuring exposure levels, assessing the plant ventilation system, administering eye examinations and questionnaires, and using rigorous statistical analysis to assess the likelihood that a given exposure was associated with symptoms of visual change.

It was impossible in the statistical analysis to distinguish the role of one compound from that of the other, but DMIPA was the more likely suspected cause for a number of reasons, although both compounds would be expected to produce the same effects, given their close chemical similarity.

As a result of the study:

  • The company began diluting the DMIPA used in the printing process. Visual symptoms immediately ceased.
  • Further recommendations were made to reduce exposures cost-effectively by first controlling specific sources of tertiary amines associated with the printing machines, and then repositioning the plant's outdoor air intakes and exhaust discharge locations.
  • Findings were generated that may help employers and employees at other sites anticipate, identify, and solve previously unsuspected problems.
  • NIOSH tested a new analytical method for detecting amines, and found that it provided a more reliable tool for detecting amines than the existing method. NIOSH incorporated the new method in its widely used Manual of Analytical Methods, available on the NIOSH web site at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nmam/nmampub.html.

In addition to publishing the results in OEM, NIOSH has shared them directly with industry groups and others, so that the information can be used for material safety data sheet (MSDS) updating, and can be disseminated more widely to manufacturers, employers, and employees. In the last available national data collected by NIOSH in the 1980s, 35,000 workers were estimated to be exposed to DMAE, and 20,000 were estimated to be exposed to DMIPA. It is likely that the number of workers currently exposed is much higher, because solvent-based inks increasingly have been replaced in the past 20 years by water-based inks containing amines.

For further information on NIOSH research and recommendations for preventing work-related illnesses and injuries, call toll free 1-800-35-NIOSH or visit NIOSH on the Web at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of injuries and illnesses in private industry workplaces in 2001 continued to edge down. The 2001 rate of 5.7 injury and illness cases per 100 full-time workers reflected not only an eight percent drop in cases from 2000 but also the lowest rates since BLS began reporting the information in the early 1970s. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said the announcement was "good news for America's workers, their families, and their employers," but more needs to be done. "As we approach the coming year," Chao said, "we are renewing our commitment to reducing workplace injuries and illnesses even further."

The report can be downloaded at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/osnr0016.pdf


Evacuating High-Rise Buildings is the latest in a series of informative fact sheets OSHA is producing or revising for employers and workers. This new fact sheet focuses on actions employers should take when an emergency occurs and what they can do to ensure safe evacuations. It also provides tips to workers on actions they should take during an emergency, or if they find themselves trapped.

Evacuating High-Rise Buildings is available at http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/evacuating-highrise-factsheet.pdf

OSHA also recently revised two publications: Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry and Crane or Derrick Suspended Personnel Platforms. Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry can be downloaded at
http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3096.pdf and Derrick Suspended Personnel Platforms can be downloaded at

OSHA also recently updated four fact sheets on various safety and health issues. Farm Safety (http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/FarmFactS2.pdf) provides recommendations on improving safety on farms by increasing awareness of safety hazards. Fire Safety (http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/FireSafetyN.pdf) discusses employer requirements for protecting workers against fire hazards. The Variance (http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/VarianceFactS.pdf) fact sheet combines two previous publications and provides general information on the topic and application instructions. Finally, workers in the trucking industry (http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/truck-fact-factsheet.pdf) can obtain important information on their rights if they feel they've been discharged or discriminated against for involvement in protected safety activities.