This information is provided free of charge by the Department of Industrial Relations from its web site at These regulations are for the convenience of the user and no representation or warranty is made that the information is current or accurate. See full disclaimer at

Subchapter 7. General Industry Safety Orders
Group 16. Control of Hazardous Substances
Article 110. Regulated Carcinogens

Return to index
New query

§5214. Inorganic Arsenic, Appendix C

Medical Surveillance Guidelines

I. General

Medical examinations are to be provided for all employees exposed to levels of inorganic arsenic above the action level (0.005mg/m3) for at least 30 days per year (which would include, among others, all employees who work in regulated areas). Examinations are also to be provided to all employees who have had 10 years or more exposure above the action level for more than 30 days per year while working for the present or predecessor employer though they may no longer be exposed above the level.

An initial medical examination is to be provided to all such employees within 4 months of the effective date of the standard. In addition, an initial medical examination is to be provided to all employees who are first assigned to areas in which worker exposure will probably exceed 0.005mg/m3 at the time of initial assignment. In addition to its immediate-diagnostic usefulness, the initial examination will provide a baseline for comparing future test results. The initial examination must include as a minimum the following elements:

(1) A work and medical history, including a smoking history;

(2) A physical examination with special attention to skin, nose, respiratory tract, lymph nodes, nervous system, and liver;

(3) Posterior-anterior chest X-ray (14-inch x 17-inch);

(4) A sputum cytology examination; and

(5) Other examinations which the physician believes appropriate because of the employee's exposure to inorganic arsenic or because of required respirator use.

Periodic examinations are also to be provided to the employees listed above. The periodic examinations shall be given annually for those covered employees 45 years of age or less with fewer than 10 years employment in areas where employee exposure exceeds the action level (0.005mg/m3). Periodic examinations need not include sputum cytology and only an updated medical history is required.

Periodic examinations for other covered employees, shall be provided every six (6) months. These examinations shall include an updated medical history and all tests required in the initial examination, except for the chest X-ray, and that the medical history need only be updated.

The examination contents are minimum requirements. Additional tests such as pulmonary function tests may be useful.

II. Noncarcinogenic Effects

The standard is based on minimizing risk of exposed workers dying of lung cancer from exposure to inorganic arsenic. It will also minimize skin cancer from such exposure.

The following three sections quoted from "Occupational Diseases: A Guide to Their Recognition," Revised Edition, June 1977, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is included to provide information on the nonneoplastic effects of exposure to inorganic arsenic. Such effects should not occur if the OSHA standards are followed.

A. Local--Trivalent arsenic compounds are corrosive to the skin. Brief contact has no effect but prolonged contact results in a local hyperemia and later vesicular or pustular eruption. The moist mucous membranes are most sensitive to the irritant action. Conjunctiva, moist ad macerated areas of skin, the eyelids, the angles of the ears, nose, mouth, and respiratory mucosa are also vulnerable to the irritant effects. The wrists are common sites of dermatitis, as are the genitalia if personal hygiene is poor. Perforations of the nasal septum may occur. Arsenic trioxide and pentoxide are capable of producing skin sensitization and contact dermatitis. Arsenic is also capable of producing keratoses, especially of the palms and soles.

B. Systemic--The acute toxic effects of arsenic are generally seen following ingestion of inorganic arsenical compounds. This rarely occurs in an industrial setting. Symptoms develop within 1/2 to 4 hours following ingestion and are usually characterized by constriction of the throat followed by dysphagia, epigastric pain, vomiting, and watery diarrhea. Blood may appear in vomitus and stools. If the amount ingested is sufficiently high, shock may develop due to severe fluid loss, and death may ensue in 24 hours. If the acute effects are survived, exfoliative dermatitis and peripheral neuritis may develop.

Cases of acute arsenical poisoning due to inhalation are exceedingly rare in industry. When it does occur, respiratory tract symptoms--cough, chest pain, dyspnea-giddiness, headache, and extreme general weakness precede gastrointestinal symptoms. The acute toxic symptoms of trivalent arsenical poisoning are due to severe inflammation of the mucous membranes and greatly increased permeability of the blood capillaries.

Chronic arsenical poisoning due to ingestion is rare and generally confined to patients taking prescribed medications. However, it can be a concomitant of inhaled inorganic arsenic, from swallowed sputum, and improper eating habits. Symptoms are weight loss, nausea and diarrhea alternating with constipation, pigmentation and eruption of the skin, loss of hair, and peripheral neuritis. Chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis have been described. Polyneuritis may be the salient feature, but more frequently there are numbness and parasthenias of "glove and stocking" distribution. The skin lesions are usually melanotic and keratotic and may occasionally take the form of an intradermal cancer of the squamous cell type, but without infiltrative properties. Horizontal white lines (striations) on the fingernails and toenails are commonly seen in chronic arsenical poisoning and are considered to be a diagnostic accompaniment of arsenical polyneuritis.

Inhalation of inorganic arsenic compounds is the most common cause of chronic poisoning in the industrial situation. This condition is divided into three phases based on signs and symptoms.

First Phase: The worker complains of weakness, loss of appetite, some nausea, occasional vomiting, a sense of heaviness in the stomach, and some diarrhea.

Second Phase: The worker complains of conjunctivitis, a catarrhal state of the mucous membranes of the nose, larynx, and respiratory passage. Coryza, hoarseness, and mild tracheobronchitis may occur. Perforation of the nasal septum is common, and is probably the most typical lesion of the upper respiratory tract in occupational exposure to arsenical dust. Skin lesions, eczematoid and allergic in type, are common.

Third Phase: The worker complains of symptoms of peripheral neuritis, initially of hands and feet, which is essentially sensory. In more severe cases, motor paralyses occur; the first muscles affected are usually the toe extensors and the peronei. In only the most severe cases will paralysis of flexor muscles of the feet or of the extensor muscles of hands occur.

Liver damage from chronic arsenical poisoning is still debated, and as yet the question is unanswered. In cases of chronic and acute arsenical poisoning, toxic effects to the myocardium have been reported based on EKG changes. These findings, however, are now largely discounted and the EKG changes are ascribed to electrolyte disturbances concomitant with arsenicalism. Inhalation of arsenic trioxide and other inorganic arsenical dusts does not give rise to radiological evidence or pneumoconiosis. Arsenic does have a depressant effect upon the bone marrow, with disturbances of both erythropoiesis and myelopoiesis.


Sputum can be collected by aerosol inhalation during the medical exam or by spontaneous early morning cough at home. Sputum is induced by transoral inhalation of an aerosolized solution of eight per cent (8 percent) sodium chloride in water. After inhaling as few as three to five breaths the subject usually yields an adequate sputum. All sputum should be collected directly into sixty percent (60 percent) alcohol.


1. Editorial correction moving Note and Histories 1-10 to precede Appendix A of section 5214 (Register 99, No. 28). For prior history of Appendices, see section 5214.

Go BackGo Back to Article 110 Table of Contents