Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)

Last Updated: August 28, 2020

Definition - What does Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) mean?

Permissible exposure limit (PEL) is a term used to identify the legal level of exposure to a hazard such as a chemicals or a physical agent in the workplace. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes PELs for these identified workplace environmental hazards. For example, the agency defines a specific PEL for a list of toxic and hazardous substances based on the maximum amount of the substance a worker may be exposed to in an 8-hour period. Exposure to noise is also regulated by a PEL.


WorkplaceTesting explains Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)

Most permissible exposure limits (PELs) are based on a time-weighted average (TWA), taking into consideration the varying levels of exposure to the hazard that a worker may experience throughout an 8-hour day. However, a PEL may also be based on a maximum short-term exposure limit (STEL). Some exposures are so dangerous that a ceiling limit, or ceiling exposure value (CEV), may be set. For these hazards, the PEL is a limit above which exposure for any duration is prohibited. PELs are part of a larger group of measures referred to as occupational exposure limits.

The PEL is intended to not only state the level above which a worker may experience harm if exposed, but also states a legal limit. Workplace environments that exceed the published PEL for a particular hazard may be subject to regulatory actions and penalties.

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