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OSHA takes steps to expand protections for workers against hazardous substances

Every day, workers across the U.S. are exposed to a variety of chemicals and substances that may have adverse health side effects. From cleaning supplies used in an office environment to gases expelled during the fracking process of oil and natural gas, frequently individual workers are unaware of their exposure to hazardous chemicals and other substances.

In years past, it wasn't until several workers in a specific industry developed lung cancer or other health problems that steps were taken to investigate possible exposure to hazardous chemicals. Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has compiled a list of chemicals the agency has identified as adversely impacting the health of workers. These chemicals are included in OSHA's list of permissible exposure limits.

OSHA's PEL includes known hazardous materials, gases and chemicals including asbestos, benzene, cadmium and lead. In total, the PEL includes approximately 500 hazardous materials and provides procedures employers are required to take to limit workers' exposure to these materials.

Through the establishment of the PEL, OSHA has helped raise awareness about workers' exposure to hazards chemicals and provided employers with guidelines and guidance on how to reduce employees' risk of exposure. Additionally, workers who are exposed to substances included in OSHA's PEL are more readily and easily able to recover compensation from employers under both personal injury and workers' compensation laws.

However, the vast majority of information related to current PEL materials and chemicals has not been updated since 1971. In the more than 40 years since OSHA first established these PELs, much has changed with regard to the types of chemicals and materials used in many industries including healthcare, construction, manufacturing, automotive and farming. In an attempt to update and expand the PEL, OSHA recently issued a news release in which the agency requests public comment on how to update and improve safety standards related to substances included or added to the PEL.

Workers exposed to toxic and harmful chemicals and materials at work may suffer a range of adverse health problems. An attorney who handles workers' compensation and personal injury claims may be able to assist in the recovery of compensation related to injuries, lost wages and medical expenses.

Source: OSHA, "OSHA launches national dialogue on hazardous chemical exposures and permissible exposure limits in the workplace," Oct. 9, 2014

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