The contamination of a West Virginia river with MCHM earlier this year brought chemical safety into the public spotlight. Currently a thirty-seven year old law governs the eighty-thousand chemicals in use in the United States. Recently the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released an information tool kit designed for businesses and workers who work around and with potentially hazardous chemicals.
The safety tool kit consists of two parts. The first part identifies safer alternatives to current chemicals in use. The second part of the tool kit is a web resource called the “Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits.” The APEL revises the amount of time a worker can safely be exposed to certain chemicals.
Transitioning to Safer Chemicals
The first part of the tool kit focuses on limiting the use of dangerous chemicals. Aside from complete elimination, substituting a less hazardous chemical is the most effective way to reduce health dangers. OSHA draws their recommendations from the Hierarchy of Hazard Control safety system. OSHA encourages companies to make”informed substitutions.” The seven steps OSHA recommends companies take before substituting chemicals are:
- Employers should form a team to come up with a plan.
- After developing a plan, examine current chemical use.
- Identify alternative chemicals.
- Make sure one hazardous chemical is not replacing another. Compare alternatives in price, performance and safety.
- Select safer alternatives. Once a decision is made, communicate the news with all affected parties. Train everyone in accordance.
- Test small amounts of the new chemical to determine its performance.
- Once the safer alternative has been tested, implement and evaluate the performance over time.
Permissible Exposure Limits
OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) have not changed much in forty years. OSHA knows that some of these PELs are not sufficiently protective of workers health. In response OSHA released a new set of annotated “Z-tables” that looks to update the exposure limits to dangerous chemicals. OSHA hopes business adopts these new PELs as a guide, however they are not yet mandatory.
OSHA recognizes that the current PELs are inadequate. The new OSHA tool box is a step forward to protect workers from dangerous chemicals. However, the implementation of Global Harmonized System (GHS) by the US and the rest of the world over the next few years, chemical usage should become much safer.
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