Employee Exposure

Last updated: September 3, 2019

What Does Employee Exposure Mean?

Employee exposure refers to any situation in which an employee comes into contact with a substance or agent that is relevant to their health and safety. The concept of employee exposure is used by occupational health and safety agencies to set limits on the amount of contact an employee may have with a given substance or agent, as well as to prescribe the use of hazard control measures to mitigate or prevent employee exposures altogether.

For regulatory purposes, employee exposure is defined in terms of the quantity of substance to which the employee has been exposed and the amount of time over which the exposure occurred. As different substances are measured in different ways—liquid/liters, solid/grams, radiation/rem, etc.—there is no single unit of measurement for exposure.

Safeopedia Explains Employee Exposure

The concept of employee exposure is very prominent within modern occupational health and safety practice and is the central focus of the industrial/occupational hygienist profession. Many of the regulatory standards put forth by occupational health and safety agencies are designed to protect workers from the negative effects of harmful exposures to toxins or physical agents such as noise and heat.

The most straightforward manner in which regulatory agencies protect employees against exposure is through the implementation of exposure limits, which set legal limits on the amount of a substance an employee can be exposed to. Non-governmental organizations such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also provide model standards for exposure limits; however, these are not legally binding unless specifically adopted by a regulatory agency.

Regulatory agencies also limit exposure by requiring the use of exposure controls for workers handling unsafe substances. Exposure control standards ensure that employees are given adequate protection and training necessary to avoid harm. Furthermore, OHS agencies may provide employers with general principles to follow to limit worker exposure, such as the duty to limit exposure to ionizing radiation to as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).

In instances where employee exposure to a substance is suspected or confirmed, the employer has additional obligations related to recordkeeping and employee health monitoring. In most jurisdictions, the exposed employee also has the right to access his or her medical records related to exposure. Common harmful agents to which employees may be exposed include metals and dusts (e.g., lead, cadmium, silica), biological agents (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi), and physical agents (e.g., vibration, repetitive motion, extreme temperature, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation).


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