Permissible exposure limits

Permissible exposure limits (PELs) prevent workers from workplace exposures to chemical agents and physical substances. Many of the PELs for various chemicals and substances were created in the 1970s and have not been updated since. The PELs set a maximum exposure limit for employees exposed to chemicals and substances which cannot be exceeded. Most PELs are 8 hour time-weighted averages, although some substances and agents may also have a short-term exposure limit (STEL). OSHA also has ceiling concentrations, which can never be exceeded.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO COMPLY WITH PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS ?

PELs protect workers from the negative health effects of workplace exposure to chemicals and substances. Failing to prevent employees from exceeding PELs and STEL scan lead to serious health risks, as well as the potential for OSHA citations and penalties.

IMPORTANCE OF IMPLEMENTING AN ACTIVE REGULATORY WATCH ON PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS

Although OSHA has not updated the majority of its PELs since the 1970s, employers should continue to monitor recommendations from industrial hygiene organizations and manufacturers. OSHA recently cited an employer for violating the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) because the employer repeatedly exposed workers to dangerous levels of styrene. The employee exposures did not exceed the PEL for styrene, but did exceed industry-wide standards. The employer was aware that its employees had a history of medical issues related to styrene exposure.
OSHA also issued a Request for Information on Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits, to identify ways in which to reduce the risks of exposure to chemicals and substances. OSHA is exploring options to streamline its ability to issue updated PELs, which, if enacted, would allow OSHA to reduce its existing PELs and regulate additional chemicals more quickly.

DEFINITIONS

WHAT IS CEILING CONCENTRATION ?

A concentration that employees may never exceed.

WHAT IS SHORT-TERM EXPOSURE LIMIT ?

An average concentration that cannot be exceeded over a shorter period of time than the standard 8 hour work shift.

WHAT IS TIME-WEIGHTED AVERAGE ?

The average exposure measured over a period of time. OSHA uses an 8-hour time-weighted average.

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