Thursday, May 17, 2012

Federal Governments Looks to ACGIH for Occupational Exposure Levels

There is a little known group called the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH) whose function is to advise the Secretary of Labor on matters relating to the occupational safety and health of federal employees. FACOSH's objective is to minimize the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses in the Federal Government.

One of the topics discussed at the May 3rd meeting was the use of occupational exposure limits (OELs) by the federal government other than the OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs). In particular, several federal government agencies also use the NIOSH recommended exposure limits (RELs) and ACGIH Threshold Limit values (TLVs). The Executive Summary of the FACOSH report explains their position.

Executive Summary Because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) have remained unchanged since their adoption on May 29, 1971, and do not account for 40 years of advances in technology or the latest peer-reviewed published toxicological information, the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH) asked its Emerging Issues Subcommittee to analyze Federal agencies’ use of PELs. The Subcommittee examined how Federal Executive Branch agencies use occupational exposure limits (OELs) published by other agencies, professional organizations, and other foreign or domestic entities.
The Subcommittee considered all aspects of controlling a potential hazardous chemical in the workplace including risk assessment approaches and the hierarchy of controls. The Subcommittee concluded that FACOSH should recommend that Executive Branch departments and agencies use the most protective and feasible OELs in Federal workplaces, notwithstanding the existence of a PEL for a given substance of concern; require contractors, subcontractors, recipients, and subrecipients to use the most protective and feasible OEL while working on behalf of the Federal government; and designate a person deemed to be competent by virtue of training and experience to make recommendations regarding acceptable chemical exposure risks, appropriate OELs, and employee exposure controls.

The committee recognizes that the OSHA PELs are dated and that many of the exposure limits are well above the values consistent with current understanding of occupational safety. It also concluded that because of the evidential and procedural requirements OSHA must meet, it is unlikely that OSHA will issue many new PELs. Therefore several federal agencies already use the more restrictive of the ACGIH and the OSHA PEL.

• The Department of State uses the more restrictive of the OSHA PELs or the ACGIH TLV, and if neither exists, then it uses the NIOSH PEL.
• The Department of Energy uses the more restrictive of the OSHA PELs or the ACGIH TLV, together with OELs from several other sources.
• The Department of Defense (Army) uses the more restrictive of the OSHA PELs or the ACGIH TLV and the Navy, Airforce and Marine Corps use a combination of OSHA, ACHIH and other standards.

The committee is recommending that this policy be adopted across the federal government. The full report is titled “Recommendations for Consideration by the U.S. Secretary of Labor on the Adoption and Use of Occupational Exposure Limits by Federal Agencies Prepared by the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH)]”, available from

It is a sad reflection of the state of the current OSHA PELs that even the federal government needs to look elsewhere for modern standards. Almost everyone recognizes that the current procedure is so slow that OSHA is effectively unable to function in developing new and revised standards. OSHA plans to update the PELs, but the problem is that OSHA’s hands are tied by the procedures and evidential standards it must meet. This blog supports reform of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, sec 6 that sets the procedures that OSHA must follow to issued new or updated standards.

Organizations outside the federal government should also follow the recommendations of this committee and use the more restrictive standards of the OSHA PELs, ACGIH TLV and other recognized standards to promote workplace safety.

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