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How OSHA monitors workers’ exposures to chemical hazards

Pennsylvanians who work in industries with known hazards generally learn the best way to work with dangerous substances and how to stay safe with materials that could injure or kill them. Employees of companies in the chemical industry probably face even greater risks from thousands of chemicals with well-documented health effects. Their use is regulated by the federal and state governments, including Pennsylvania’s.

Every employer whose operations includes the use of these chemicals must follow federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines on safety to keep their workers safe and to prevent industrial accidents. Any company that fails to meet these occupational health standards can face serious consequences in the form of an accident that could injure or kill workers as well as federal and state fines.

OSHA’s chemical standards, which are known as permissible exposure limits, must be enforced by all chemical employers at all times. As part of its compliance-monitoring program, OSHA monitors worker exposures to chemical hazards by taking industrial hygiene samples to measure a variety of airborne contaminants in all industry settings. The processes used by OSHA include integrated sampling, direct reading, instantaneous sampling, breathing zone sampling, area sampling and bulk sampling. The resulting exposure assessment data are compared against occupational health standards to determine whether or not workers are being exposed to chemical hazards.

Many of those samples are sent for detailed analysis to OSHA’s Salt Lake Technical Center. Most sampling data results are then disclosed semi-annually by OSHA on its website. If a company has appealed the results of analysis or questions the data used, reports for those samples are only disclosed after any appeals process or litigation has ended. All data are periodically assessed to determine whether standards need to be changed or can stand as they are.

Source: OSHA, “Chemical Exposure Health Data,” Accessed on March 11, 2015

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