Recommending Workplace Standards - Frequently Asked Questions
- What does it mean to recommend protective standards for chemicals?
- Aren’t all chemicals regulated to prevent health damage before they are used in workplaces?
- What are examples of standards HESIS has recommended?
- Does HESIS only recommend standards for chemicals?
- What happens after HESIS recommends a new standard to Cal/OSHA?
1. What does it mean to recommend protective standards for chemicals?
It means recommending the amount of a chemical most workers can breathe every day over a working lifetime without harming their health. The amount is usually expressed in parts of the chemical per million parts of air or “ppm”. These standards are called Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). HESIS calculates protective PELs from studies on the toxic effects of chemicals.
2. Aren’t all chemicals regulated to prevent health damage before they are used in workplaces?
Many chemicals are regulated before use, but some are not. For chemicals that are regulated, many of the standards protect workers from short-term health effects such as headaches and eye, nose, or throat irritation that are experienced immediately after exposure. The standards may not protect against long-term health effects like cancer and reproductive damage. These effects can be difficult to link to exposure because they are delayed. Long-term health effects related to chemical exposures are difficult to study; the studies can take a long time to complete, and interpretations of the results often vary.
3. What are examples of standards HESIS has recommended?
HESIS recommended a new standard for an unregulated solvent called 1-bromopropane to protect workers from reproductive damage and nerve damage. In response to new studies on ethylene oxide, a gas used in hospital sterilizers, HESIS recommended that the standard be revised to protect workers from cancer and reproductive damage. Prior to the HESIS recommendation, the ethylene oxide standard only protected workers from respiratory irritation.
4. Does HESIS only recommend standards for chemicals?
No. HESIS also makes recommendations for standards that protect workers from other health hazards. For example, we recommended revision of the Cal/OSHA Sanitation Standard to protect workers from the health effects of mold found in indoor workplaces. As a result, employers are now required to correct uncontrolled accumulation of water due to leakages and other sources to prevent the growth of mold in workplaces.
5. What happens after HESIS recommends a new standard to Cal/OSHA?
The recommended standard is usually reviewed and evaluated by a Cal/OSHA advisory committee. If accepted, it is sent to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board. Public hearings are held to allow the public, including affected industry and labor groups, to comment on the proposed standard. The Standards Board makes the final decision regarding adoption of the proposed standard.
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