Permissible exposure limits (PELs) have been all over the news with countless incidents being reported showing the debilitating affects lifelong exposure without any proper precautions can have on a loyal worker. Of the thousands of chemicals used in workplaces, OSHA has PELs for less than 500, 95% of which have not been updated since 1971. Recognizing the shortcomings in PEL standards OSHA is putting the responsibility back in the hands of individual companies to do the right thing and ensure the safety of the hardworking individuals.
With many types of harmful chemical and gases found in workplaces across America, the effects can be vast and grave. Exposure symptoms can start as a simple nose or eye irritation but can quickly build into chronic light headedness, difficulty breathing, cancer, paralysis or even death. It is an unfortunate state of affairs when it comes to PELs. Workers are being exposed to limits that are legal but in no way healthy.
In October 2014 OSHA launched a nation dialogue in hopes of giving stakeholders a forum to develop innovative, effective approaches to improve the health of workers. OSHA has also been trying to find new ways of ensuring the safety of workers where they feel companies aren’t doing enough on their own to protect. For example in a recent visit highlighted in the wall street journal OSHA cited dangerous environment not under the PELs but rather the General Duty Clause to correct a situation that was having a negative effect on the well being of its employees.
Chemicals have warnings on them for a reason, the workers who have to interact with them shouldn’t have to risk their own well being to do so. While giving a voice to this long term issue is the first step, hopefully not only OSHA but facilities on an individual basis will start taking safety into their own hand while formal legislation is being passed if for nothing else than the future wellbeing of their own company.
If your workplace is looking for safer chemical alternatives, visit the OSHA toolkit for transitioning here https://www.osha.gov/dsg/safer_chemicals/index.html