Medical Studies: Formaldehyde Assessments

To determine the exposure levels to formaldehyde, RPS was commissioned to carry out a workplace monitoring study within the anatomy classroom of the Medical Sciences Teaching Centre at a leading University Hospital.

Key details

Project name:

Medical Studies: Formaldehyde Assessments





Midlands, UK


Services provided:

Exposure monitoring


Formaldehyde is used to preserve the bodies donated to medical research. Once a body has been embalmed, cadavers are set up in the classroom for dissection and observation. Cadavers and prosections (which are dissections of a cadaver) are stored in either formaldehyde-filled tanks or in sealed bags in storage cupboards.

Working closely, RPS and the University identified the potential challenges of the project, due to class lecturers and students working in close proximity to the cadavers, and how to overcome them. Our client was keen to monitor exposure to students when uncovering the cadavers and removing the thoracic cavity - this was reported as the task with the highest exposure concerns.




Working with the University Divisional Safety Officer and the anatomy class lecturer at the beginning of the project helped to fully understand the processes, classroom activity, interaction with formaldehyde solution and the controls already in place. Previous symptoms of ill health and ongoing issues were also discussed at this time.

A sampling programme was then carried out which involved collecting personal samples, fixed point samples and the use of a direct-reading instrument. Observations were made during the simulations to understand and visualise potential sources of exposure, including looking at the enclosure designs of storage tanks, cupboards and the cadaver benches.

At the end of the monitoring period, RPS highlighted the findings of the study to the Client, clarified the concerns initially raised and identified the sources of exposure. A report was issued on our findings along with recommendations. RPS’ Occupational Hygiene team will return to site to carry out further assessments and monitoring once the recommendations had been completed.

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