July 11, 2019

New NIOSH Report Outlines Its Occupational Exposure Banding Process

A new technical report published by NIOSH describes the agency’s voluntary occupational exposure banding process for chemical risk management. Occupational exposure banding is intended to help occupational health and safety professionals and others make timely, well-informed risk management decisions about chemicals that lack occupational exposure limits. In the May 2018 issue of The Synergist, members of the team that developed the NIOSH process describe occupational exposure banding as “a process intended to quickly and accurately assign chemicals to specific categories (bands) that correspond to a range of exposure concentrations.” NIOSH characterizes the new document, which provides the background, rationale, and instructions for the process, as “a long-awaited resource on hazard and potency information that can serve as the foundation for making exposure-control decisions” in order to protect workers.

“NIOSH has devoted significant efforts to develop, assess, and validate the occupational exposure banding strategy with the overall goal of reducing safety and health risks for workers,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD. “In the absence of formalized OELs, the exposure banding approach serves to identify workplace hazards and helps employers implement control strategies that keep workers safe on the job.”

The occupational exposure banding process is organized into three tiers that each have different requirements related to data sufficiency. According to NIOSH, the most appropriate tier for a specific banding situation depends on the quantity and quality of the available data as well as the training and expertise of the user. Users with only modest specialized training can assign an occupational exposure band, or OEB, using Tier 1 of the process with relatively little information about a chemical substance. Tiers 2 and 3 require more chemical-specific data to successfully assign an OEB. Tier 3 of the process “requires expert judgment to critically evaluate experimental data and discern toxicological outcomes,” NIOSH’s Lauralynn Taylor McKernan, ScD, CIH, and T.J. Lentz, PhD, stressed last year in a Synergist article outlining the feedback the agency received from early adopters of occupational exposure banding.

NIOSH’s new technical report is accompanied by an occupational exposure banding e-tool, which allows users to generate quantitative exposure guidance for chemicals using toxicology and potency information. The e-tool is intended to assist with Tier 1 and Tier 2 banding.

The new report is available for download from the NIOSH website. For more information, see the agency’s workplace safety and health topic page on occupational exposure banding.