OSHA Provides New Tools for Worker Chemical Protections

In an effort to improve protection of workers from exposure to toxic chemicals, OSHA recently unveiled two new tools on their website to assist companies and their workers. The first resource is a toolkit to identify safer chemicals that can be used in place of more hazardous ones. This toolkit provides step-by-step information, methods, tools and guidance to either eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals or make informed decisions for substituting safer chemicals, materials, products or processes in the workplace. The toolkit is available at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/safer_chemicals/index.html.

The second resource is a table of Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). OSHA's PELs set mandatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air to protect workers against the health effects of certain hazardous chemicals. The majority of OSHA PELs were adopted more than 40 years ago, and in many instances these outdated mandatory limits are not protective of workers' health. OSHA’s ability to update these PELs in a timely manner based on more recent scientific data, industrial experience and developments in technology has been limited by insufficient resources as well as political and industry resistance. In the few cases where PELS have been updated, that process can take a decade or more (e.g., OSHA’s proposed silica PELs).

The table serves as a reference source for more up-to-date workplace exposure limits by including a side-by-side comparison of OSHA PELs for general industry with those of 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. The table is available at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/annotated-pels/index.html.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires that employers provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. While OSHA will continue to enforce their mandatory PELs, the agency hopes that employers will use these more current exposure limits as the basis for protecting their workers’ health. Since reforms of the OSH Act and major improvements in OSHA’s ability to update their PELs are not likely soon, it is imperative that employers use these more current limits for meeting their responsibility to protect the health of their workers.

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