Compliance Alone Won’t Safeguard Against Chemical Exposure

OSHA recently released resources for employers to find safer chemical alternatives and adopt new stricter chemical exposure limits.

The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently released two new resources to help employers safeguard their workers from hazardous chemical exposure, according to EHS Today. Sectors that regularly deal with potentially toxic chemicals, such as the manufacturing industry, should review these resources, which include a toolkit to identify safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals and annotated Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL).

OSHA said having a guide for employers to find chemical alternatives could reduce the risk of exposure to harmful substances. OSHA said there are more than 190,000 instances of sickness and 50,000 worker deaths each year associated with chemical exposure. The federal agency said businesses can benefit from not only improving efficiency of business functions through safer chemical alternatives but also reducing costs related to risks with chemical handling.

“We know that the most efficient and effective way to protect workers from hazardous chemicals is by eliminating or replacing those chemicals with safer alternatives whenever possible,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Using OSHA resources to adopt new exposure limits
Another important resource is OSHA’s annotated PEL tables. OSHA acknowledges that its standards are outdated and that new data and technological developments mean its current limits may not be enough to adequately protect workers. These tables let employers compare OSHA PELs with other standards from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and American Conference of Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

“There is no question that many of OSHA’s chemical standards are not adequately protective,” Michaels said. “I advise employers, who want to ensure that their workplaces are safe, to utilize the occupational exposure limits on these annotated tables, since simply complying with OSHA’s antiquated PELs will not guarantee that workers will be safe.”

OSHA provides businesses with information on these limits to allow employers to voluntarily adopt new workplace exposure limits. For example, in the OSHA annotated PEL tables, the limit for oil mist and mineral oil is 5 milligrams per cubic meter of air for OSHA PEL regulatory limits, which is the same for NIOSH recommended limits.

As manufacturers and producers find new ways to substitute hazardous chemicals for safer ones, they can continue to protect workers through tools like fume extractors or in the case of the example above, oil mist collectors, which can clean the air to prevent chemical overexposure.

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