Safety and OSHA News

NSC: Employers should go beyond OSHA’s PELs

Add another voice to the chorus calling for companies to use the latest science and not just OSHA’s limits when it comes to protecting workers from hazardous chemicals. 

For Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28) this year, the National Safety Council (NSC) is urging employers to address workplace illnesses and to “consider the latest scientific research … which should go beyond OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs).”

Workplace illnesses result in 53,000 deaths and 427,000 nonfatal injuries each year, compared to workplace injuries which lead to 4,500 deaths and 4.8 million injuries requiring medical attention annually.

Many of these illnesses result from chemical exposure.

The NSC issued a new policy position recommending that employers:

  • Use consensus standards, employer best practices and information from the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for determining the most effective control strategies, which should go beyond OSHA’s PELs, Hazard Communication Standard and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)
  • Improve reporting and tracking of occupational illnesses
  • Share information and practices on prevention of occupational illnesses
  • Reduce risks of exposure to chemicals by using the hierarchy of controls
  • Contribute to the review and update of existing standards that protect workers from harmful exposure to chemicals, and
  • Consider total worker health factors that may exacerbate occupational illness exposures.

In October 2013, OSHA released Annotated PEL Tables that provide a side-by-side comparison of OSHA limits to PELs from Cal/OSHA, recommended exposure limits from NIOSH and current threshold limit values from ACGIH.

Recognizing that the science behind current PELs dates back to the 1960s, OSHA advised employers to use the stricter limits available on the new tables.

OSHA just closed a comment period in its Request for Information on revising PELs. The next step is for the agency to publish the results of the RFI which could happen before the end of 2015.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) applauded OSHA’s efforts to update PELs. The AIHA says updating PELs has been one of its priorities since the mid-1990s.

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