The Future of Occupational
Can OELs Be Saved?
Editor’s note: These pages present edited excerpts from “Occupational Exposure Limits—Do They Have a Future?” To read the
paper in its entirety, including information about the historical evolution of OELs and the known OEL-setting processes, visit the International Occupational Hygiene Association website at www.ioha.net/activities.html. The authors are listed in the sidebar on page 48.
Do we still need traditional Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) to compare with exposures, perform risk assessments and identify control approaches? Or have traditional OELs run their course of usefulness? Some certainly think so! On the other hand, if we think that OELs are important to risk assessment and risk management, and recognizing the limited
global infrastructures to generate them at the rate needed, do we
need to build on what we have and also explore measures and
approaches which take our discussions and solutions beyond traditional OELs alone? We have many in this camp as well.
OELs have been established for airborne workplace chemicals
by various regulatory and authoritative organizations for well
over 60 years now. With the changing regulatory arena, shifting
centers of manufacturing growth, and move towards a more
global view on issues, the time to pause and re-examine their
continued value is now.
The authors of this paper, who represent decades of experience in occupational health in all sectors of the profession, believe that OELs continue to be critical to protecting workers from
chemical exposures. We believe that most industrial hygienists
and other allied risk management professionals strongly support
the concept that OELs should be updated, consistent with current
scientific knowledge. We also believe that the infrastructure to
generate and utilize OELs desperately needs shoring up.
In an effort to suggest a future approach (or several future
approaches), we attempted to highlight the historical evolution
of OELs, the known OEL setting processes today, their role in
industrial (or occupational) hygiene and risk assessment, and
today’s world community challenges. This paper presents ideas
to revive and reinvent the process. Because the issues and potential remedies are many and complex, we do not necessarily support each potential remedy or historical interpretation that
follows. In fact, the views and opinions expressed in this paper
are those of the individual authors and may not necessarily
represent those of the authors’ employers. We do agree, though,
that in working together, our profession can lead the way forward.
OELs and Risk Assessment
Risk assessment (RA) is the integration of toxic potential and
potency with the exposure to that potential. Industrial hygienists
measure or estimate exposure in the scenarios of interest.