Ontario to update acceptable limits for exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace

New system changes the way the province updates acceptable exposure limits for more than 700 hazardous chemicals

The last time Ontario updated its standards for limits to chemical exposure in the workplace, it took the government 15 years.

Chris Bentley, the province’s labour minister, said that was simply too long and the government is introducing a new system to ensure limits for exposure to more than 700 chemicals in the workplace are updated and improved regularly.

“The government’s new revision system ensures Ontarians will never again have to wait that long for updated standards that make workplaces safer and healthier,” said Bentley.

In a press release, the province said that regularly updating Ontario’s exposure limits based on the latest scientific and technical knowledge will reduce occupational illness and lower workplace premiums for employers.

The government has also introduced more protective limits for four hazardous workplace substances — benzene, carbon monoxide, manganese dust and 1,3-butadiene.

What are occupational exposure limits?

Occupational exposure limits (OELs) restrict the amount and duration of workers’ exposure to hazardous workplace substances such as asbestos, benzene, lead and silica.

Ontario workplaces are required to monitor exposure levels of a wide range of dangerous substances, and develop control programs to ensure compliance with OELs. Ministry of Labour inspectors and hygienists enforce OEL compliance by conducting inspections of workplaces.

Medical, scientific and technical staff support inspectors and hygienists. If the province believes a workplace is exceeding an OEL, written orders are issued to the employer to take the necessary steps to come into compliance or to prevent possible future non-compliance.

How have OELs been determined?

Ontario has based OELs on the list of recommended Threshold Limit Values published by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). ACGIH is a body that provides updated recommendations that were adopted by many North American jurisdictions, the province said.

The ACGIH annual publishes entries and revisions for its list of recommended limits. Up until now, there has been a delay in reviewing the updated ACGIH recommended list and revising Ontario’s OELs.

In 1986, the regulation respecting control of exposure to biological or chemical agents was passed in Ontario. Based on the exposure limits recommended by ACGIH in 1985, the regulation required employers to protect workers from exposure to 587 hazardous biological or chemical agents.

In 2000, new and more protective OELs for 204 substances were included in the regulation to reflect current knowledge respecting their toxicity.

The new system

In October 2001, the Ministry of Labour began to meet with stakeholders on developing a revision system for updating OELs. Based on the input received, the government will regularly update OELs based on new ACGIH recommendations and their relevance to Ontario. Additional updates can be made beyond the ACGIH recommendations based on the best available scientific and medical research.

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