Court Decision Affecting PELs

Since the 1970s, much new information has become available which indicates that, in most cases, these early limits are outdated and insufficiently protective of worker health. To correct this situation, OSHA published a proposal in 1988 updating the air contaminant limits in general industry. When that proposal became a final rule in 1989, it lowered the existing PELs for 212 toxic air contaminants and established PELs for 164 previously unregulated air contaminants.
In July 1992, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the 1989 final rule on the grounds that OSHA:
  • Failed to establish that existing exposure limits in the workplace presented significant risk of material health impairment or that new standards eliminated or substantially lessened the risk; and
  • Did not meet its burden of establishing that its new permissible exposure limits (PELs) were either economically or technologically feasible.
The Court’s decision to vacate the rule forced OSHA to revert back to the original protective limits. The Court granted several successive stays following the July 1992 decision, allowing the Agency time to consider further legal steps. A decision was made on March 1993 not to appeal to the Supreme Court, and the Eleventh Circuit Court’s decision stands today.

Should you comply with the 1989 PELs, even though they are no longer legally required?

OSHA believes the 1989 PELs are more protective, and encourages employers to continue compliance efforts to meet these levels, particularly where engineering and work practice controls have already been implemented. OSHA always encourages employers to go beyond the minimum protections afforded by the standards.

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