Employers must retain employee exposure records for 30 years. Since OSHA could issue citations for failing to keep these records, employers need to understand exactly what OSHA considers an “employee exposure record.”
The standard at 1910.1020 defines these records to include certain sampling for toxic or hazardous substances, as well as records of hazardous chemicals used. These are rather broad categories, however.
Testing for a hazardous substance in Subpart Z would create an exposure record. Those regulations cover asbestos, lead, chromium, formaldehyde, and many others. In addition, the tables in 1910.1000 list hundreds of substances from carbon dioxide to vegetable oil mist. Even testing for harmful substances that are not listed could create an employee exposure record.
Measuring things like noise, vibration, temperature extremes, or particulate matter will usually create an exposure record that must be retained for 30 years. However, measuring conditions in a normal range (such as office temperature readings) does not create an exposure record.
Not every sample or measurement will create an exposure record. OSHA clarified that exposure records describe the identity of, and possibly the level of exposure to, a toxic substance or harmful physical agent. For example, if an indoor air quality evaluation sampled the HVAC system, the results might identify non-toxic bacteria typical in office or work environments. In that case, the result would not be an employee exposure record.
If employers test for a substance with known human health effects, OSHA considers the results to be an employee exposure record even if the levels are below a listed action level or permissible exposure limit (PEL). The standard is not limited to records showing that exposure is excessive, but rather on the mere fact that occupational exposure exists.
Now, if exposures are below the action level, the employer can usually stop monitoring — at least unless a process or work practice changes in a way that could increase exposure. However, if exposures are above the action level but below the PEL, employers usually need to continue periodic monitoring, all of which become exposure records.
The standard does not cover situations where the employer can demonstrate that the toxic substance or harmful physical agent is not used, handled, stored, generated, or present in the workplace in any manner different from typical non-occupational situations.
Finally, OSHA notes that employee questionnaires are not exposure records because they don’t characterize exposures. However, if the questionnaires address medical information, they may be “employee medical records” under 1910.1020. For example, the employee questionnaire under the respiratory protection standard is a medical record, but not an exposure record.
Many of the regulations in Subpart Z require employers to create a written plan for reducing worker exposures. The J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE offers a Toxic and Hazardous Substances Compliance Program template that can be modified for any Subpart Z substance, along with many other templates to help employers evaluate risks and protect their workers.