Occupational exposure limits
Occupational exposure limits
ECHA, through its Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), supports the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion by providing scientific opinions on occupational exposure limits (OELs). RAC’s work follows that by DG Employment’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL).
OELs are a measure for minimising worker exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. Such limits are set taking into account the available information (including the most recent data) on the hazards of a substance, particularly with respect to carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and toxicity to reproduction, and on the acute effects of exposure. OELs are mainly intended to prevent workers from inhaling chemicals as vapours, mists or dusts. However RAC may also provide recommendations for a skin notation indicating that dermal protection is needed. Additionally, it may recommend more informal Biological Limit Values (BLV, biomonitoring exposure levels) or Biological Guidance Values (BGV, biomonitoring background levels).
OELs are established following a process involving a series of steps. The process begins with a request from the European Commission to ECHA to prepare a scientific report for consideration by RAC. The preparation of the scientific report may also rely on relevant information collected through a call for evidence. All completed scientific reports for OELs are subject to a two-month public consultation.
RAC then develops its opinion based on an evaluation of ECHA’s scientific report and the information provided during the public consultation. During the opinion process the scientific report becomes an annex to the RAC opinion and is then referred to as the background document. While OELs are mainly used to prevent worker exposure to chemicals through inhalation, RAC may also recommend a skin notation to protect from dermal exposure. In addition, it may recommend more informal biological limit values (BLVs) or biological guidance values (BGVs).
After RAC has adopted its final opinion on the scientific report, the opinion and supporting documents are sent to the Commission.
In the case of binding OELs under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC), the ordinary legislative procedure is followed. This results in an amendment to the relevant annexes as agreed by the Council and the European Parliament. In the case of indicative OELs under the Chemical Agents Directive (98/24/EC), a decision is taken by the European Commission.
* When a substance is evaluated under the Chemical Agents Directive (CAD) and the occupational exposure limit is indicative, the decision is made by the European Commission
** When a substance is evaluated under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD), the decision is made in agreement between the Council and the European Parliament based on a proposal put forward by the European Commission