Is Change in Store for Occupational Exposure Limits?-November 2010

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

November 2010


IN THIS ISSUE: Is Change in Store for Occupational Exposure Limits?

Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) may be in for a major overhaul. OELs were first established in the United States more than 60 years ago to ensure that workers’ health was protected. Today, both legal and economic pressures may compel industry and the federal government to consider new, stricter standards modeled after the ones recently adopted by the European Union.

“Globally, manufacturing centers have shifted, and the safety standards in Europe and developing countries such as China is sure to impact industry here,” explains Ticker. “Today’s standards may be unrecognizable in the very near future.”

How are standards set in the United States? 

In the United States, industrial hygienists rely on the ACGIH Threshold Limit Values (TLV) or OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) as guidelines for evaluating employee exposure to hazardous chemicals.  Other standards such as the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) or AIHA Workplace Environmental Exposure Limit (WEEL) may be used as well.

How are standards set internationally?

For many years, countries in Europe and other parts of the world set their own standards, often based on the TLVs set in the U.S.  Then, in 2006, the European Union (EU) enacted REACH, the strictest laws on chemical manufacturing. Initially, companies that manufactured or imported chemicals into the EU in quantities greater than 1000 tonnes per year had to register them with the EU.  Beginning in November, hazardous chemicals in smaller quantities will be included. As part of that registration, companies will be required to develop a new exposure standard: the Derived No-effect Level (DNEL).

Implications of Changing Standards

Currently, the TLVs and other standards only cover a few thousand chemicals and are based on a level where the vast majority of employees will not be affected.  In contrast, the DNELs may cover hundreds of thousands of chemicals and mixtures and are based on a “do no effect level.” American companies doing business in Europe will be impacted by DNELs.  If the standards are adopted domestically, new methods to collect and analyze data will need to be developed and validated to meet these changing standards.  The best course of action is for all companies that use chemicals to evaluate their processes to see how they may affect their employees. If clear data is not available, companies will need to pressure suppliers to make health and toxicological data available. 

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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