Permissible and Recommended Exposure Limits for Chemicals in the Workplace

In industrial workplaces across the nation, workers are exposed to many materials described as hazardous—including benzene, solvents, and paints. Unfortunately, many industries come with an inherently high possibility of exposure to dangerous substances, such as construction, manufacturing, and waste disposal. However, for them to truly affect the health of workers, they must come in contact with or be absorbed by the body. This leads to toxicity, which is a substance's ability to cause adverse effects.

The more toxic that a material is, the less of it is needed to create these harmful effects. Determining whether a material is truly 'toxic' is based entirely on the probability that the material will reach a certain concentration in the body. It is important to keep in mind that a material can be toxic without being hazardous, so long as it is handled properly. On the other hand, materials may not be toxic at all, but be extremely hazardous if workers are continuously exposed. To protect workers and regulate the amount of hazardous material that they are exposed two, two standards of measurements are used: RELs and PELs.

What are RELs and PELs?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health assigns a recommended exposure limit (REL) to substances that carry a risk of harm. To establish this number, the organization relies on scientific evidence regarding how much of a chemical will do any harm whatsoever, even in the long-term.

In contrast, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an established list of permissible exposure limits (PELs). These limits outline what amount of exposure is legally allowed based on information provided by many sources, including interest groups, politicians, and even court orders. This index is less objective than RELs, and the numbers reflect the amount of exposure that is not harmful to most people. OSHA's list of annotated PEL's can be found online.

Given these outlines, the two numbers can vary greatly.

Minimizing Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals

Exposure can come in the form of inhalation, ingestion, or contact with the skin or other areas of the body. Safety precautions must be observed to protect workers as much as possible, such as the use of respirators, hazmat suits, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, facilities and work areas must be adequately maintained to ensure that unnecessary spills are prevented.

If you feel that you are being exposed to an unsafe level of contamination in your workplace, the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards provides a helpful resource with details about each dangerous chemical. In the event that workers are subjected to illegal hazards, they may be able to seek compensation for their damages. The attorneys of Arnold & Itkin can assist workers in a wide range of fields with determining if their right to a safe workplace has been violated. Contact our chemical exposure attorneys for a free evaluation of your potential claim.


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