Revised workplace exposure limits (WELs) came into force on 17 January 2020. They were introduced by the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (EU) 2017/2398 amending Directive 2004/37/EC.
Workers may experience health problems if they have prolonged contact with hazardous materials. This contact can be through inhalation (breathing), absorption (through the skin), ingestion (swallowed) and injection. WELs set limits on the amounts of substances that can be present in the workplace environment. For example, if a substance causes cancer or asthma, then employers must control exposure to as far below the WEL as is reasonably practicable. Some ways this can be achieved is to specify the appropriate environment in which the materials can be used, the maximum concentration at which the material can be used and the personal protective equipment that workers must wear.
Substances that have been assigned WELs are subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) (as amended) Regulation, which places a duty on employers to protect employees and others in the workplace from the hazards associated with substances used at work.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has proposed that companies write a report to link health-based exposure limits and occupational exposure limits (OELS). This aligns the methodologies described in the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation and those stated in occupational health and safety legislations, so establishing safe levels of exposure to chemicals in the workplace. ECHA has published guidance on how to complete these reports, which can be found here.
If you have any concerns regarding WELs or have any general regulatory query, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
ECHA: New guidance on occupational exposure limits