Less than 1 percent of all chemicals in the world are regulated or have Occupational Exposure Limits. There are steps you can take to keep your employees safe and limit exposure before it even occurs.
By Zaheen Fatima
On average, 30 percent of companies in the EU report that their employees may be at risk of exposure to chemical substances in the form of liquids, fumes or dust. Consequences of this exposure can result in anything from acute respiratory illness to cancer. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that there are 20,000 new cases and 12,000 deaths of work-related breathing or lung problems each year in Great Britain alone.
Occupational exposure to hazardous substances (including toxic gas, volatile liquids and compounds) remains a key challenge for health and safety managers. Occupational Exposure Limits’ (OEL) value is the limit of the time-weighted average of the concentration of a chemical substance in the air within the breathing zone of a worker over a specified reference period. OELs are explicitly developed for occupational health and safety purposes and are used as an instrument for authorities and by companies to improve compliance.
With the release of a new directive from the EU that includes a fourth list of indicative occupational exposure limit values (IOELVs), the legislation sets the exposure threshold for 31 more substances. IOELVs are health-based exposure limit values set to help protect workers from the ill effects of exposure to hazardous substances. IOELVs are listed in EU directives, which member states are obliged to implement by introducing national limits for the substances listed. There are currently IOELVS for 115 substances listed in three directives which have been adopted since 2000.
The stricter regulations can be key to ensure that just reducing risk is not enough for these dangerous substances. Companies must work on eliminating exposure before it occurs by having better controls in place. This is where new technologies like wearables and edge devices are expected to make a difference.
But with a changing regulatory environment, particularly in Europe which has greater expectations for proactive risk management, we need to reexamine the way we look at OELs. The simple fact is that only approximately 1 percent of all the chemicals in use worldwide are either regulated by government or have traditional OELs. Instead of treating OELs as the sole source of exposure guidance, occupational hygienists should treat them as one component of exposure benchmarks. When OELs do not exist, alternative risk assessment methods like control banding, occupational exposure and hazard banding or working provisional OELs can be used.
Occupational exposure is not solely a concern for policy makers and regulators, we need to own this subject and engage stakeholders from the health and safety domains to look at new tools to address this fundamental issue.
References for additional reading:
Zaheen Fatima's previous webinars:"What is Industrial Hygiene Anyway?" and "Industrial Hygiene Program Design and Challenges
About the Author: Zaheen Fatima, Product Manager
Zaheen Fatima, Product Manager at Intelex Technologies. She is a healthcare management and information technology professional with 10 + years of experience. Thorough knowledge of processes and workflows of different departments in Hospital and Clinical Practice. Expert in gathering, analyzing and defining business and functional requirements; creating metrics, trend charts and other decision-making tools; and designing/re-engineering processes, workflows and solutions for healthcare systems.
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