US OSHA Issues Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA PELs

Posted on: March 7, 2019

by Caroline Miller, CIH, CSP

In late 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new enforcement policy for respiratory hazards of chemicals not covered under the OSHA Permissible Exposures Limits (PELs).  The new enforcement policy updates the enforcement policy for respiratory hazards not covered by PELs from 2003.

Chemist with respirator - read about OSHA's Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA PELsThe General Duty Clause, found in Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), is used to issue citations for occupational and safety hazards not covered by OSHA regulations.  The new enforcement policy provides guidance on issuing respiratory hazard citations when employers fail to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” as required by the General Duty Clause.

In order to issue a citation under the General Duty Clause, the OSHA Field Operations Manual (FOM) provides the following criteria:

  1. “The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  2. The hazard was recognized;
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and,
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.”

If the respiratory hazard does not meet all four criteria, then the policy suggests the OSHA Area Office should issue a Hazard Alert Letter (HAL).  The HAL provides information to the employer on the employees’ exposure and provides exposure control recommendations.

The enforcement policy also provides guidance when the respiratory hazard does meet all four of the above criteria, including examples of employer and industry recognition, such as:

  • The Safety Data Sheet (SDS),
  • Industry or trade association’s guidance document,
  • Publication from a (non-OSHA) federal, state, or local government agency, or from a professional organization,
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
  • National Toxicology Program (NTP),
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
  • The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR, formerly The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights),
  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH™),
  • Occupational Alliance for Risk Science (OARS)


US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (US OSHA), Standard Interpretations:  Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (November 2018):

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General Duty Clause

Respiratory Hazards

Permissible Exposure Limits, PELs

Enforcement Policy


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