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Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?

Q:

Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?

A:

Airborne contaminants can pose serious threats to the health and safety of your workers. Conducting air sampling in your work environment is important to determine the concentration of contaminants in the air and evaluate those results against permissible exposure limits (PELs) to ensure you have the right protections in place. PELs are in place to protect workers, and your company, against the adverse effects of such exposures. Beyond being aware of these limits, you should also monitor your air quality for changes in toxicity. Air quality is not a finite value and detecting changes in the toxicity may call for alterations of your safety protocols and recommendations. It is imperative that you continually monitor and know what you’re dealing with in terms of potential airborne contaminants and exposure levels in order to offer the best possible protection to your team.

PELs address the level of concentration of a substance over a specific period of time, usually eight hours. These limits are set out in a series of tables but only tell you acceptable levels of exposure before employees could suffer adverse effects. This is only half of the information necessary to best protect your team. It is crucial to not only identify airborne toxins in the workplace but also to quantify them to offer the best possible protection for your team (learn more in How Clean is the Air You Breathe?).

OSHA has provided, in their Respiratory Protection Standard (29, CFR 1910.134), that use of a respirator is mandatory if there is an atmospheric hazard necessitating the use of such protection or if the employer requires it. Further, if it is determined that respirators are mandatory on a job site, there are specific guidelines to be followed including the establishment of an administrator to oversee the respirator program (see 6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Respiratory Protection Device).

Different regulations apply if a respirator is voluntary, but a written respirator protection program is still required to ensure compliance, understanding, and agreement. The voluntary protection clauses provide that employees may decide to wear respirators even if they are not required by the company or the environment. Employees opting to wear respirators voluntarily must be medically cleared to wear them and continue to comply with other health and safety standards. Dust masks are the only exception to this rule.

Air sampling allows for the detection of shifts in air quality to determine the appropriate level of protection necessary for employees. It also allows for an accurate determination of whether a respirator should be mandatory or voluntary. It is important to have air sampling done to determine your PELs so that you can confidently implement and execute the proper safety protocols to keep all your workers healthy and protected.

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Written by Doug Lara
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Doug Lara has been a part of the safety industry for over 30 years. He has many accomplishments—business owner, guest speaker at various colleges, built safety training courses. Doug currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of SafetyNetwork.Me and is the father of three boys and husband to his wonderful wife Holly.

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