Formaldehyde in the workplace

Target Audience

The target audience are Hospital mortuary, Embalmers and Pathology workers who by the nature of their work are often in isolated, insular environments. Communication with others from different clinical areas would be infrequent and formalised . So communication via social media for peers in these areas  is suitable.

Safety Update

Formaldehyde has long been associated with scary movies and body parts in jars.

However who would have though for such a widely used chemical in Australia the major use for Formaldehyde is in labs to fix tissues and organs and in the funeral industry to embalm, disinfect and preserve (Australian Government Department of Health, 2016).

What are the facts about Formaldehyde?

It was discovered as a preservative for body parts and antiseptic as far back as 1893 (Woskie, 1994). Health effects depend on the concentration and the way it is handled. Suggesting embalming would pose more risk as formaldehyde exposures in the embalming process require a long duration and higher concentrations.  On a normal intact body the embalming time is 2 hours (Woskie 1994).

Skin contact cause rashes, splashes can cause eye irritation and corrosion of the cornea, inhalation may cause respiratory irritation and burning and high exposure may cause an irregular heartbeat, severe headache and pulmonary edema.  It can also react strongly with bleach and acids and has known to cause nasal cancers in animals (Australian Government Department of health,2013).

So why do we continue to use it?

It has properties which are not easily replaced by other products and some of the reading suggests workers are not willing to try other products due to Formaldehyde’s effectiveness.

Formaldehyde has been studied by various bodies in Australia and worldwide and some European countries have started to restrict its use (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013).

What can we do to prevent exposure?

  • Develop alternative technology for preservation of the human body
  • Substitute with an alternative chemical or reduce formaldehyde use in embalming
  • Minimize formaldehyde release during embalming by enclosing the process and provide ventilation and masks.
  • Hazard communication via the MSDS’s and good housekeeping to avoid spills


American Federation of state, county and municipal employees. (2016). Workplace Health and Safety Fact Sheet Formaldehyde. Retrieved from

Australian Government Department of health. (2013). Formaldehyde Fact sheet National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. Retrieved from

Formaldehyde testing lab, EMSL Analytical. INC New Jersey. Retrieved from

Woskie, S. (1994). Formaldehyde Use Reduction in Mortuaries. University of Massachusetts Lowell

Isolated and insular environments

Isolated and insular environments

Amber Atkinson