In late October this year, OSHA released its new web resources to help employers better protect their workers from hazardous chemicals. Tens of thousands of workers are made sick or die from occupational exposures to thousands of hazardous chemicals that are used in workplaces. While many chemicals are suspected of being harmful, OSHA only regulates a small number and unfortunately, the agencies exposure standards for these hazards are out-of-date and inadequately protective.
One of the most effective ways to protect employees is through engineering controls (or process controls) such as the substitution of a highly hazardous substance with a non-hazardous substance. With this in mind, OSHA has created an online tool to help employers identify safer chemicals that can be used in place of more hazardous ones. Named Transitioning to Safer Chemicals: a Toolkit for Employers and Workers, it walks employers and workers through information, methods, tools and guidance to either eliminate hazardous chemicals or make informed substitution decisions in the workplace by finding a safer chemical, material, product or process. It is available at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/safer_chemicals/index.html.
OSHA also created the Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits, or annotated PEL tables, which will enable employers to voluntarily adopt newer, more protective workplace exposure limits. OSHA enforces the current permissible exposure limits that set mandatory limits on the air borne concentration of a substance to protect workers against the health effects of certain hazardous chemicals. But the majority of these PELS were adopted over 40 years ago, and new data, studies, industrial experience, and developments in technology have uncovered the insufficiency of many of these PELS in actually protecting worker health.
"There is no question that many of OSHA's chemical standards are not adequately protective," Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health 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."
The new online tool offers an easily accessible reference for decision making in this area by providing a comparative table with annotation of OSHA PELs to four other sources: the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health PELs, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure limits, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist threshold limit values. The tool is available at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/annotated-pels/index.html.
These are great tools and probably overdue given the admission that chemical safety may be understated using current guidelines and regulations. However, employers cannot institute any changes without a baseline assessment. With over 25 years of IH exposure assessment experience, Emilcott can help any employer prioritize and institute sound H&S programs regarding hazardous substances in the work place.