OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits
OSHA also has established enforceable standards for exposure time limits to hazardous chemicals and substances. These are called permissible exposure limits (PELs), which include limits on the airborne concentration of hazardous chemicals in the air.
Most OSHA PELs are 8-hour time-weighted averages (TWA), although there are also Ceiling and Peak limits. In addition, many chemicals include a skin designation to warn against skin contact. Approximately 500 PELs have been established. Separate regulatory PEL standards have been promulgated for General Industry, Shipyard Employment, and the Construction Industry.
Environmental Protection Agency & Toxic Substances
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces two federal statutes that govern toxic substances. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) addresses the manufacturing, processing, distribution, use, and disposal of commercial and industrial chemicals. The Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) establishes pollution prevention as the national policy for controlling industrial pollution at its source.
The PPA focuses on reducing hazard substance release into the environment prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal. Methods to do so include equipment or technology modifications, process or procedure modifications, reformulation or redesign of products, the substitution of raw materials, and improvements in housekeeping, maintenance, training, or inventory control.
Common Exposure Injuries
Some of the more common toxic chemicals and substances that can cause injury to employees on the job are asbestos, lead, benzene, pesticides, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, silica, paint, solvents, and acids.
The ways in which someone can come into contact with hazardous chemicals are called pathways. The three basic pathways are inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. Contact can lead to adverse health effects depending on a variety of factors, including:
- The type of the chemical
- The amount of the dose
- The duration of exposure
- The frequency of exposure
Additionally, not all persons react the same to exposure. Some persons may be more reactive than others — that is, just a single exposure might lead to sickness, while for others, repeated exposure might be necessary.
The symptoms of hazardous chemical exposure include:
- Itchy, burning eyes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Fevers and chills
- Rapid heart rate
In addition to burns and rashes and the sometimes-momentary symptoms listed above, exposure to toxic substances can lead to serious illnesses and diseases, including:
- Lung Cancer
- Brain Damage
- Heavy Metals Poisoning
- Nerve Damage
What to Do When Injury Occurs
Your first recourse for any workplace illness or injury is to report it to your employer and seek workers’ compensation to cover your medical treatment and any lost wages due to time off to recover.
A personal injury lawsuit may also be possible if a third-party manufacturer or supplier of a chemical, or office product containing chemicals, fails to adequately provide safety warnings and instructions, or produces a product whose toxicity cannot easily be contained when following instructions.
A personal injury claim, if successful, can open up avenues toward compensation so that you can recover non-economic awards for pain and suffering in addition to economic awards for medical expenses, lost income, and more.