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Does OSHA Allow A Certain Level Of Toxic Exposure?

Accidents at the workplace can range from a simple muscle pull to the development of a complex, life altering disease. Even a seemingly minor injury can lead to life-long complications and a dramatic impact on your entire family.

Typically, work injuries can fall into one of three categories: a single accident, such as falling down the stairs; repetitive stress, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; or toxic exposure. Toxic exposure can run the gamut from breathing in asbestos fibers to handling a strong chemical during cleaning. Often, chemical exposure is readily apparent through skin irritation, watering eyes or coughing. Other times, however, toxic exposure is silent.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has worked for decades to protect workers from unsafe conditions. They have developed specific guidelines around toxic exposure called Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). To quote OSHA:

"OSHA sets enforceable permissible exposure limits (PELs) to protect workers against the health effects of exposure to hazardous substances, including limits on the airborne concentrations of hazardous chemicals in the air."

Workers directly benefit from OSHA's diligence and attention to detail. If an employer does not comply with OSHA guidelines the organization might face severe consequences in the form of fines or other penalties. These regulations aren't perfect, however. Most of the PELs are 8-hour weighted limits, perhaps to account for total exposure over a work shift. Chemical exposure, though, is typically defined by peaks and valleys occurring at irregular intervals. Additionally, there are many substances for which OSHA has not set a workplace exposure limit.

If you are concerned that you were exposed to a toxic substance at work, it is important to protect yourself. An attorney experienced in workers' compensation cases can thoroughly answer your questions.

Source: Department of Labor, "Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances." Accessed 2/12/16.

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