★ Harmonization between Asian and European occupational exposure limits investigated. ★ The OELs of twenty-five organizations analyzed. ★ International differences both in substance selection and the level of OELs shown. ★ The systems for setting OELs have not been standardized. ★ Harmonization processes have been initiated, primarily in Europe.
Occupational exposure limits (OELs) are used as a risk management tool aiming at protecting against negative health effects of occupational exposure to harmful substances. The systems of OEL development have not been standardized and divergent outcomes have been reported. However some harmonization processes have been initiated, primarily in Europe. This study investigates the state of harmonization in a global context. The OEL systems of eight Asian and seventeen European organizations are analyzed with respect to similarities and differences in: (1) the system for determining OELs, (2) the selection of substances, and (3) the levels of the OELs. The majority of the investigated organizations declare themselves to have been influenced by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), and in many cases this can be empirically confirmed. The EU harmonization process is reflected in trends towards convergence within the EU. However, comparisons of Asian and European organizations provide no obvious evidence that OELs are becoming globally harmonized.