OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits & Worker Safety
Every job has its own set of occupational risks. Many of those risks are located indoors and concern compromised air quality. Fires can happen at restaurants and distilleries; particulate dust can contaminate jobsites such as bakeries and woodworking shops; and toxic fume emissions are an ongoing concern in places such as salons, breweries, and manufacturing facilities.
Employers, by law, must protect their workers from elements that can cause them harm. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) aids businesses in identifying risks by establishing guidelines such as PELs.
OSHA has set these enforceable permissible exposure limits (PEL) to protect workers from health problems resulting from contact with hazardous substances, including limiting the concentration of airborne chemicals. (1)
OSHA PELs Defined
Based on years of scientific studies and extensive research, OSHA established the Permissible Exposure Limit, defined as the legal amount of time for worker exposure to a specific agent, substance, or situation during a typical 8-hour day, 40-hour work week.
PELs require employers to identify potential workplace risks associated with hazardous substances and take action – in the form of compliance – to mitigate exposure levels.
Toxic materials covered by this regulation include well-known chemicals such as chlorine, octane, CO2, and nitric acid but also include substances such as wood dust and welding fumes.
PEL Highlight: Hexavalent Chromium
Chromium is a substance found in nonferrous alloys, stainless steel, and chromate coatings such as pigments, dyes, and inks. Chromium is converted to a hexavalent state (Cr (VI)) during the welding process and is highly toxic. (2)
Dangerous occupational exposure can occur when Cr (VI) fumes or mists are ingested or inhaled. Exposure can also be through absorption via the skin, eyes, or ears.
Hexavalent chromium overexposure can cause organ damage, respiratory tract distress, and even cancer. Even minimal – but regular – exposure can cause symptoms such as rash, sinus and breathing problems, nosebleeds, throat irritation, and chest tightness.
To protect laborers from these risks, OSHA has set a PEL for worker exposure to this chemical under its Chromium (VI) standard.
OSHA PEL Compliance
To comply with any PEL – whether hexavalent chromium or any other elements covered under the CDC Chemical Index (3) – employers must create a safe work environment and enact necessary measures to lessen occupational exposure to hazardous materials.
Precautions can include providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks or ventilators, regularly monitoring air quality and exposure levels, and installing proper ventilation systems.
Many businesses and industrial organizations go one step further and employ the use of air cleaning equipment such as dust collectors and fume extractors. These products remove toxic emissions at their source to ensure the highest protection against exposure to unhealthy pollutants. At AIRSInc., we provide high quality source capture air cleaning products. We have numerous options to choose from, such as our SP-800 portable fume extractor (4). For more information, contact us for a free estimate with one of our clean air experts.