NIOSH is a tool to keep in your pocket

By Noel Brandon Kelsch, RDHAP

All of us have our favorite instruments, tools that make our jobs easier, more efficient, and safer. In infection control, there is a valuable tool you may not have thought of that can do the same thing for you. The tool was created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

NIOSH is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency is responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses. They are your advocates. They want to keep employees safe. The agency's purpose is to help ensure safe and healthful working conditions by providing research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health. NIOSH has several tools available to aid you with prevention of workplace-acquired diseases.


Other articles by Kelsch


It does not stop there. With the information from NIOSH, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor) develops workplace safety and health regulations. OSHA then enforces workplace safety and health regulations. They are enforcers of employee safety. They want you to go home healthy at the end of the day. They are your advocates.

NIOSH has a valuable resource for the dental setting. Their website (cdc.gov/niosh/) is full of information about everything from air quality to the specifics of dentistry. One area we all need to visit has to do with chemical exposure.

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards

In the dental setting, while conducting infection control and working with patients, we are all exposed to chemicals. The chemicals all have side effects. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards provides details on several hundred chemicals for workers, employers, and health professionals. The pocket guide has key information and data in abbreviated form for chemicals or substance groupings (for example, cyanides, fluorides, manganese compounds) that are found in the dental work environment. This is vital information that can help users recognize and control occupational chemical hazards. Since every office is required to have training on the chemicals they are using, this document is a fantastic resource for facilitating that training.

The pocket guide gives you vital information on:

  • Chemical names, synonyms, trade names, CAS, RTECS, and DOT ID and guide numbers
  • Chemical structure/formula, conversion factors
  • NIOSH recommended exposure limits -- how long can you be exposed before damage occurs? (RELs)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits (PELs)
  • NIOSH immediately dangerous to life and health values (IDLHs)
  • Physical description and chemical and physical properties of agents
  • Measurement methods
  • Personal protection and sanitation recommendations
  • Respirator selection recommendations
  • Incompatibilities and reactivities of agents
  • Exposure routes, symptoms, target organs, and first-aid information

This document can be downloaded or ordered from cdc.gov/niosh/npg.

Tools of the trade can make a big difference in the workplace setting. I hope that you will download this document and keep it in your pocket.

The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards can be used:

  • When choosing one product over another
  • During staff training
  • After a chemical exposure for first-aid reference
  • Planning for rotations of staff to limit exposure
  • Planning of building structure and changes that are necessary (such as ventilation with a cold sterile system)
  • Setting up personal protective equipment needs, including respirators
  • Determining if two products can be used together (many products have chemical reactions when mixed with bleach and ammonia, for example)

NOEL BRANDON KELSCH, RDHAP, is a syndicated columnist, writer, speaker, and cartoonist. She serves on the editorial review committee for the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention newsletter and has received many national awards. Kelsch owns her dental hygiene practice that focuses on access to care for all and helps facilitate the Simi Valley Free Dental Clinic. She has devoted much of her 35 years in dentistry to educating people about the devastating effects of methamphetamines and drug use. She is a past president of the California Dental Hygienists' Association.

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