The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched two new web resources that aim to safeguard workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals in response to its own out-of-date standards.
The government agency’s exposure standards, which were developed in the 1970s, are out-of-date and inadequately protective for the small number of chemicals that are regulated in the workplace, OSHA says.
OSHA created a toolkit, called Transitioning to Safer Chemicals, to identify safer chemicals that can be used in place of more hazardous ones. OSHA also developed the Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits, or annotated PEL tables, to enable employers to voluntarily adopt newer, more protective workplace exposure limits.
PELs set mandatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air to protect workers from suffering health problems related to exposure to certain chemicals. OSHA will continue to enforce those PELs.
OSHA adopted the majority of the PELs more than 40 years ago, and new scientific data, industrial experience and developments in technology indicate that in many instances these mandatory limits are not sufficiently protective, the agency says.
The annotated PELs is a stopgap that compares OSHA PELs for general industry to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health PELs, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure limits, and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist threshold limit values.
Last year, OSHA revised its 1983 Hazard Communication Standard, or HCS, to align with the UN’s global chemical communication system: the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, or GHS. By the end of 2013, the first deadline outlined in the regulation will have passed and the largest change in workplace safety regulation since 1983 will be in full swing, according to a white paper released in June by compliance products firm Labelmaster.
By Dec. 1, all US workers who come into contact with just one chemical in the workplace will have to be trained to understand how to interpret hazards communicated through pictograms and standardized material safety data sheets, now called safety data sheets, or SDS.
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