NIOSH Working to Validate Occupational Exposure Banding Process

By Ed Rutkowski

Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City (June 1, 2015)—Lauralynn McKernan, ScD, CIH, Deputy Director of the Education and Information Division at NIOSH, reported on the agency’s progress in validating its proposed process for occupational exposure banding today at AIHce 2015. The process, which was explained in detail in an article McKernan wrote for the May 2014 issue of The Synergist, is an attempt to help industrial/occupational hygienists deal with the many unregulated chemicals in commerce, especially chemicals for which little authoritative data is available.

Occupational exposure banding is an approach to risk management that groups chemicals into categories or “bands” based on their health outcomes and potency considerations, with each band representing a range of exposure values. The NIOSH process involves assigning a chemical to one of five bands. Chemicals with the lowest toxicity are grouped in “Band A,” while those with the most potential to cause irreversible health effects are placed in Band E.

The NIOSH process would offer three separate systems for evaluating a chemical for the purpose of placing it in a hazard band. The first system, which NIOSH calls its “Tier 1” evaluation, is intended for chemicals about which relatively little information exists. Tiers 2 and 3 are intended for chemicals about which greater data is available and are to be used by experienced IH/OH practitioners.

McKernan’s presentation revealed partial results of NIOSH’s attempt to validate its proposed approach to occupational exposure banding. To validate its Tier 1 process, NIOSH compared the occupational exposure limits of approximately 750 chemicals to the occupational exposure bands that resulted from its Tier 1 process. For 79 percent of these chemicals, NIOSH found that its Tier 1 process yielded recommended exposure values at least as conservative as the OEL. The validation of the Tier 2 process was even more promising, with 84 percent of hazard bands at least as protective as the OEL.

The next step for the NIOSH occupational exposure banding process involves assembling a team to conduct a second phase in the validation. The process will eventually be published on the NIOSH website, McKernan said.

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist. He can be reached at (703) 846-0734.

View more Synergist coverage of the conference on the AIHce 2015 Highlights page.