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OSHA's permissible exposure limits: regulatory compliance versus health risk

OSHA's permissible exposure limits: regulatory compliance versus health risk

Risk Analysis 9(4): 579-586

Workplace exposures to airborne chemicals are regulated in the U.S. by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) via the promulgation of permissible exposure limits (PELs). These limits, usually defined as eight-hour time-weighted average values, are enforced as concentrations never to be exceeded. In the case of chronic or delayed toxicants, the PEL is determined from epidemiological evidence and/or quantitative risk assessments based on long-term mean exposures or, equivalently, cumulative lifetime exposures. A statistical model was used to investigate the relation between the compliance strategy, the PEL as a limit never to be exceeded, and the health risk as measured by the probability that an individual's long-term mean exposure concentration is above the PEL. The model incorporates within-worker and between-worker variability in exposure, and assumes the relevant distributions to be log-normal. When data are inadequate to estimate the parameters of the full model, as it is in compliance inspections, it is argued that the probability of a random measurement being above the PEL must be regarded as a lower bound on the probability that a randomly selected worker's long-term mean exposure concentration will exceed the PEL. It is concluded that OSHA's compliance strategy is a reasonable, as well as a practical, means of limiting health risk for chronic or delayed toxicants.

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Accession: 040841111

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 2608949

DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1989.tb01268.x

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