The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is launching a national campaign to help prevent occupational illnesses from harmful chemical exposure.
Are Hazardous Chemicals Dangerous for Workers?
There are currently tens of thousands of chemicals being used in American workplaces, many of which are considered harmful. Ammonia, a common chemical used for refrigeration, is toxic when ingested, and corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer. Small fibers can also become lodged in a workers lungs, nose and throat, causing asbestosis or lung cancer.
More than 800,000 workers a year experience adverse health effects from chemical exposure. This year, OSHA is working with stakeholders and scientific consultants to confront the problem and research possible solutions.
How Does OSHA Regulate Chemical Exposure?
OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) dictate the amount or concentration of a substance allowed in the air to protect workers from adverse health effects. However, PELs apply to less than 500 hazardous chemicals, and most of the limits have not been reevaluated since 1971.
OSHA will need substantial resources to issue new exposure limits and update existing ones, and it hopes to get some help from the scientific community.
The government agency plans to collaborate with doctors, public health officials, chemical manufacturers and other experts to help it identify new ways to address chemical hazards.
The agency is also asking for the public’s help developing alternative methods for managing chemical exposure and streamlining processes for risk assessment and feasibility analyses. Hopefully, its efforts will lead to new strategies that better protect workers from chemical exposure.
This is a promising effort from OSHA, but it highlights a real and current problem in our workplaces. Hazardous chemical exposure can permanently damage a worker’s health, and more than 50,000 workers die every year due to poor hazardous chemical management.
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[Did You Know: Workers are more likely to suffer skin disease from chemical exposure than lung or respiratory illness.]
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