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Common terms related to chemical hazards in the workplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration makes it clear that employee training is a critical part of creating safety in the workplace. This is especially true in environments where hazardous chemicals are required or present. Workers must know how to use these substances appropriately or how to protect themselves from byproducts that are hazardous

In talking about chemical hazards, OSHA uses some terminology that is important for workers to understand. For example, OSHA talks about allowable concentrations of airborne hazards. This means that some hazards are in the air of a workplace and a certain percentage of those hazards is allowed. Usually, OSHA deems that the allowable concentration isn't immediately dangerous or can be mitigated with safety equipment and clothing. Understanding the allowed concentration in your workplace helps you understand what should be monitored and when danger is occurring.

OSHA also talks about the ceiling limit. This is the exposure level that is deemed the maximum safe level. A worker should never exceed this amount of exposure to a toxin or hazardous chemical. Exceeding the ceiling level should result in a report to supervisors and might require being checked by medical staff.

In many cases, the short-term exposure limit is different from the time-weighted average. This means that you might be safely exposed to a higher concentration of chemical for 15 to 30 minutes, but you would not want to be exposed to that concentration for hours.

By understanding these limits, you can keep yourself and others safe in the workplace. If you are exposed above the limits to hazardous chemicals and are injured or sick as a result, then you might have a claim for workers' compensation. Speaking with an employment law professional can help you understand the best next steps.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "What are chemical hazards and toxic substances?," accessed Aug. 12, 2016

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