Workers exposed to chemicals suffer injuries and illnesses that can damage virtually all body parts and systems, including the lungs, skin, liver, kidneys, eyes, and mucous membranes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that workers suffered more than 55,000 illnesses related to chemical exposures in 2007 and nearly 17,500 chemical-related injuries and illnesses resulted in workers spending days away from work. This is likely an underestimate because often the effects of chemical exposures are frequently not recognized until years after exposure. As a result, work-related disease often goes unreported since a worker or physician may not attribute the effect to an exposure that occurred on the job many years before.
During its first two years of existence, OSHA established approximately 400 permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hazardous chemicals based on then-existing national consensus or federal standards. Since then, OSHA has been able to develop more protective regulations for only 29 chemicals, while the majority of OSHA PELs have remained unchanged.
"Many of our permissible exposure limits are based on 1950s-era science that we now realize is inadequate to protect workers in 21st century workplaces," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. "We must assure the protection of workers currently exposed to well-recognized chemical hazards for which we have an inadequate PEL or no PEL at all. I am hopeful that this forum will assist us in achieving that goal by helping us to identify those chemicals on which we should be focusing our efforts."
The forum will allow stakeholders to identify harmful chemicals and explain why OSHA should focus on these chemicals in developing long- and short-term solutions for reducing workers' exposure. Interested parties can complete a nomination form at http://www.osha.gov/pelforum.html. Nominations will be accepted from August 16 until August 27.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.