NIOSH Details New Tools for Chemical Risk Assessment, Management

The agency is preparing to release several important documents to help industrial hygienists assess and control risks more effectively, a NIOSH division chief explained May 20.

MINNEAPOLIS -- AIHce EXP 2019 attendees filled a meeting room May 20 to learn about current NIOSH work projects on chemical risk assessments and management of those risks. The session did not disappoint -- presenter Paul A. Schulte, Ph.D., who heads the NIOSH division working on these projects, detailed several new documents and soon-to-be-released tools in areas of concern, areas such as Recommended Exposure Limits, IDLH values, nanotechnology, and occupational exposure banding.

More than 52 million U.S. workers are exposed to chemical hazards, and from 2011 to 2015, an estimated 71,000 illnesses and injuries and approximately 4,800 deaths resulted from occupational chemical exposures in this country, he said. But most of the literature points out that these numbers are a "severe underestimation" of the true scale of the problem, Schulte added.

He discussed work on the well-known NIOSH Pocket Guide, including that it became available as an app late last week; ongoing work on Recommended Exposure Limits for seven substances, including manganese, lead, glutaraldehyde, toluene diisocyanate, and silver nanoparticles; and the release (as a digital download) in the next few months of a document titled "NIOSH Practices in Occupational Risk Assessment."

The agency will soon release a Current Intelligence Bulletin on occupational exposure banding, he said, explaining that the document will set out five bands that are based on the toxicity level of the chemical at issue.

Schulte also discussed what he described as the "exposome" -- the totality of exposures of concern for a worker throughout his or her life. "We're no longer in a job-for-life" world, he explained, so industrial hygienists are going to have to start thinking about the exposures that workers take with them as they move from job to job.

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