PELs, or Permissible Exposure Limits, are regulations that establish the acceptable amount or concentration of a substance in the air in the workplace. They are intended to protect workers from adverse health effects related to hazardous chemical exposure.
Of the thousands of chemicals used in workplaces, OSHA has PELs for less than 500.
Many of the PELs have not been updated since 1971, and current scientific data suggests that, in many instances, the outdated PELs are not sufficiently protective of worker health.
In 1989, OSHA attempted to update or set new PELS for more than 350 chemicals in a single rulemaking. Although OSHA presented analyses of the risks associated with these chemicals, as well as the feasibility and economic impacts, the analyses were not as detailed as those for individual rulemakings. The entire rulemaking was ultimately vacated by the Court.
Workers are essentially covered by the same PELs as they were 40 years ago and, while OSHA has been given no new tools to control workplace exposures, it has had to conduct increasingly resource-intensive analyses that have slowed the PEL rulemaking process to a crawl. Since 1971, OSHA has been successful in establishing or updating PELs for only about 30 chemicals.