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The Setting and Use of Occupational Exposure Limits

4 April 2007

This document has been prepared by the Institute of Environment and Health (IEH) for ICMM to provide a framework for discussions on a harmonised approach to setting occupational exposure limits (OELs), and to facilitate activities related to the development of a common, global strategy to promote movement towards such an approach.

  • The objective in setting OELs is the protection of workers from occupational ill-health and disease, both locally, in the respiratory tract, and systemically, by setting a highest occupational exposure level at which no adverse health effects can be anticipated in workers and their offspring.
  • The development of OELs should be based on best available science, reflect risk acceptance criteria and take account of socioeconomic consequences, technical feasibility and the practicalities of measurement and assessing compliance. 
  • The value of harmonizing approaches to setting OELs is becoming increasingly apparent with industrial globalization, yet OELs set in various regions and jurisdictions are often different.
  • Benefits of taking a harmonized approach to setting OELs are: 1) increased transparency of health-based OELs, clarifying their uses and limitations, 2) enhanced confidence in the process used to derive OELs by communicating key scientific criteria, 3) pooling of resources among OEL setting bodies, increasing coverage of substances with no OEL, decreasing time to update OELs, 4) increased provision for similar levels of worker and health protection globally by increasing consistency in scientific criteria used as basis for deriving OELs
  • This document reviews: Current perspectives on OELs across a range of national and international organisations, the use of data from experimental and human studies in setting health-based OELs, exposure measurement methodologies, risk assessment methodologies and procedures for setting OELs in a number of jurisdictions.