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worker in haz-mat suit

Chemical Exposure Standards ‘Dangerously out of Date,’ OSHA Says

worker in haz-mat suitChemical exposure standards set by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are “dangerously out of date and do not protect workers,” according to OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, Dr. David Michaels.

To remedy this, OSHA has launched a national dialogue with stakeholders on ways to prevent work-related illness caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

The first stage of this dialogue is a request for information on the management of hazardous chemical exposures in the workplace and strategies for updating permissible exposure limits.

OSHA’s PELs, which are regulatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air, are intended to protect workers against the adverse health effects of exposure to hazardous substances. Ninety-five percent of OSHA’s current PELs, which cover fewer than 500 chemicals, have not been updated since their adoption in 1971.

The agency’s current PELs cover only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce, many of which are suspected of being harmful. Substantial resources are required to issue new exposure limits or update existing workplace exposure limits, as courts have required complex analyses for each proposed PEL.

OSHA is seeking public comment regarding current practices and future methods for updating PELs, as well as new strategies for better protecting workers from hazardous chemical exposures. Specifically, the agency requests suggestions on:

  • possible streamlined approaches for risk assessment and feasibility analyses and
  • alternative approaches for managing chemical exposures, including control banding, task-based approaches and informed substitution.

Last last year OSHA launched two web resources that aim to safeguard workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals in response to its own out-of-date standards.

Photo Credit: worker in yellow protective uniform via Shutterstock

 

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