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OSHA Gets Smart: Finally Provides Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits

If you need OSHA permissible exposure (PEL) limits assistance discussed in this article call us at 973-366-4660 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President

October 29, 2013

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established to protect people from health and safety hazards found at work. One of OSHA’s most basic resources is its list of PELs: Permissible Exposure Limits that are intended to protect worker health from exposure to toxic materials. PELs are enforceable regulatory limits on the concentration of a substance in the air. Since its founding in 1971, however, OSHA’s PELs have not been regularly updated according to new scientific discoveries, technical developments and industrial knowledge.

Simply updating the PELs is not a simple process. OSHA’s position as a federal agency leaves it open to lobbyists and lawsuits from corporate industry who object when a chemical or substance is deemed more hazardous than previously known and OSHA proposes to lower a permissible threshold. Most recently, in August 2013 OSHA proposed a new rule to reduce its 1971 PEL for silica by almost half, which according to a statement by the Department of Labor would save almost 700 lives and prevent approximately 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year. This was immediately met with opposition by industry group Associated Builders and Contractors and the newly formed Construction Industry Safety Coalition. In the meantime, employees are left at higher risk as OSHA’s regulatory limits remain at significantly inappropriate levels.

OSHA’s smart solution: Annotated permissible exposure limits, which show OSHA’s permissible exposure levels side by side with the more stringent guidelines of three other organizations. Included in the annotated PELs are the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

OSHA cannot and does not require companies to follow the more stringent guidelines offered by Cal/OSHA, NIOSH and ACGIH. But insurance companies sure can! Workers Compensation coverage may soon become contingent on companies providing protection on par with State-Of-The-Art information. Also, industrial hygienists and safety professionals have better information to present to their leaders on the true health hazard in their workplaces.

Of course, OSHA cannot deliver citations to businesses compliant with its own, laxer PELs. But injured or sick employees can still file – and win – Workers’ Compensation claims based on the leading edge knowledge available at the time of the exposure.

By providing the resource of a comprehensive list of substances and the most current acceptable levels of exposure on each, OSHA gets around the problem of lobbyists and lawsuits to continue its mission of protecting worker health and safety.

The annotated PELs are available here: www.osha.gov/dsg/annotated-pels/index.html

Our primary service areas for Annotated Permissible Exposure Consulting are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.

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