Formaldehyde is widely used in many workplaces. In the funeral industry, a diluted water soluble formulation (known as 'Formalin') is extensively used for embalming purposes as a disinfectant and a preservative agent. Formaldehyde has been classified under the GHS as a Category 1B carcinogen (IARC: Group 1 carcinogen); is a skin sensitisation agent; and is toxin which can have acute effects on the respiratory system and skin.
In the context of the funeral industry, various levels of embalming treatments are used to prevent decomposition based on the wishes of the deceased and their families. Depending on the requirements, small amounts of formalin may be used for short term and small area preservation (e.g. viewing) through to large amounts for long term 'storage' in crypts.
For some of these applications, significant amounts of formalin is used over long periods of time (up to 8 hours) with the opportunity for worker exposure high. In addition, there are a wide variety of workplace conditions and environments where mortuary work is undertaken which impact exposure. morticians have reported adverse health effects such as respiratory illnesses including shortness of breath, bronchitis, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing.
This workplace research project investigates formaldehyde exposure for morticians with the intention of improving standards, implementation of practical controls to reduce exposure (including elimination of formaldehyde and replacement with glycerine) and increasing awareness of formaldehyde exposure for the Funeral Industry.