OSHA Looks to Review Current PELs and Establish New PELs

Posted on: November 4, 2014

By Kelsey Squelch

The current approach to establishing Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) is under review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The current approach on PELs was established over forty years ago when the OSH Act was signed in 1970. In order to address the concern that employees are not being properly protected by the current PELs, OSHA has presented the Request for Information (RFI). The RFI presents background on the issue at hand, as well as a request for comments on technical issues found in OSHA’s rulemaking process for workplace hazards. The goal of the RFI document is to review the current approach for OSHA’s rule making, to explain possible new approaches for rulemaking, to inform the public and to give an opportunity for the public to express their opinions.

OSHA previously attempted to make a change in its PEL regulation in 1980, but this was unsuccessful because of what is known as the Benzene Case. During the trial, the Court determined that the proposed changes to the PELs did not fall under the requirements of the OSH Act. According to the RFI, the requirements state that “the employers ensure that their workplace are safe, that is, that their workers are not exposed to ‘significant risk[s] of harm’.”

The RFI takes a look into a few Risk Assessment Methods OSHA is considering to implement in order to update the current PELs. It also explains the current approach OSHA takes in creating PELs. OSHA entitles one of the new approaches being considered “Tired Approach to Risk Assessment in Support of Updating PELs for Chemical Substances,” which involves three stages. The stages include analyzing the dose-response, determining an exposure margin and an extrapolation of exposure –response. Another approach OSHA is considering is “Chemical Grouping for Risk Assessment.” If OSHA decides to use this grouping method, the Agency would assess the risk of a chemical by its relationship to other chemicals in categories such as structure, functional group and chemical classes.   These methods along with many others are explained in much more detail in the RFI. Some methods even go as far as assessing whether or not they would be feasible from a financial standpoint. Although there are many routes to consider, finding a new method is very important so that workers can have as much protection from hazardous chemicals as possible.


“Department of Labor; Occupational Safety and Health Administration; 29 CFR Parts 1910, 1915, 1917, et al.; Proposed Rule,” 79 Federal Register, 197 (10 October 2014), pp. 61384-61438.


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