Step one in chemical exposure limit update

OSHA is seeking public comment regarding current practices and future methods for updating PELs. A national dialogue with stakeholders will launch on ways to prevent work-related illness caused by exposure to hazardous substances.


Manufacturing automation industry take note: A national dialogue with stakeholders will launch on ways to prevent work-related illness caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

The first stage of this dialogue created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a request for information on the management of hazardous chemical exposures in the workplace and strategies for updating permissible exposure limits (PELs).

OSHA's PELs, which are regulatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air, are there to protect workers against the adverse health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

95% of OSHA's current PELs, which cover fewer than 500 chemicals, have not undergone an update since their adoption in 1971. The agency's current PELs cover only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce, many of which could be harmful. Substantial resources end up required to issue new exposure limits or update existing workplace exposure limits, as courts have required complex analyses for each proposed PEL.

"Many of our chemical exposure standards are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "While we will continue to work on updating our workplace exposure limits, we are asking public health experts, chemical manufacturers, employers, unions and others committed to preventing workplace illnesses to help us identify new approaches to address chemical hazards."

OSHA is seeking public comment regarding current practices and future methods for updating PELs, as well as new strategies for better protecting workers from hazardous chemical exposures. Specifically, the agency requests suggestions on:

  1. Possible streamlined approaches for risk assessment and feasibility analyses
  2. Alternative approaches for managing chemical exposures, including control banding, task-based approaches and informed substitution.

The goal is to give stakeholders a forum to develop innovative, effective approaches to improve the health of workers in the United States. In the coming months, OSHA will unveil additional ways for members of the public to participate in the conversation.

The comment period for the RFI will continue for 180 days. Instructions for submitting comments are available in the Federal Register, Docket Number OSHA-2012-0023.

For more information, visit the OSHA Chemical Management Request for Information web page.

Gregory Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (, a news and information website covering safety and security issues in the manufacturing automation sector. This content originally appeared on the ISSSource website. ISSSource is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, Control Engineering, 

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