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Exposure determination
  • The employer must ensure that employees are not exposed to OSHA-regulated substances above the permissible exposure limit.
  • Because OSHA standards were first created in 1970, employers should consult other agencies and organizations for chemicals that are not regulated by OSHA, or for more up to date recommended occupational exposure limits.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hundreds of chemicals. A PEL is the chemical-specific concentration in air that is intended to represent what the average, healthy worker may be exposed to daily for a lifetime of work without significant adverse health effects.

The employer must ensure that workers’ exposures to OSHA-regulated substances do not exceed the PEL. However, most OSHA PELs were adopted soon after the Agency was first created in 1970 and were based upon scientific studies available at that time. In some cases, there may be health data that suggests a hazard to workers below the levels permitted by the OSHA PELs. Other agencies and organizations have developed and updated recommended occupational exposure limits (OELs) for chemicals regulated by OSHA, as well as other chemicals not currently regulated by OSHA.

Employers should consult other OELs in addition to the OSHA PEL to make a fully informed decision about the potential health risks to workers associated with chemical exposures. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as some chemical manufacturers have established OELs to assess safe exposure limits for various chemicals.

Employers must conduct exposure monitoring, through air sampling, if there is reason to believe that workers may be exposed to chemicals above the action level or, in the absence of an action level, the PEL. Periodic exposure monitoring should be conducted in accord with the provisions of the relevant standard.

The employer should notify workers of the results of any monitoring within 15 working days of receiving the results. Some OSHA chemical standards have specific provisions regarding exposure monitoring and worker notification. Employers should consult relevant standards to see if these provisions apply to their workplace.