Protecting Workers from Adverse Chemical Exposure: Do Voluntary Standards reduce Exposure?
Our study is the first to test if voluntary contaminant standards, which are used widely to achieve food, product and workplace safety, reduce exposure to those contaminants. We analyze workers' actual measured exposure to toxic chemicals at 1,103 chemical plants between 1984 and 2009. We find that voluntary workplace exposure standards contribute to only limited reductions in workers' exposure. Measured at the point at which voluntary limits are most effective, a 1% reduction of the exposure limits recommended by the voluntary standards leads to only 0.42% reduction in exposure. We also find that legal standards reduce exposure by a larger magnitude than voluntary standards. Plants, on average, reduce their exposure by almost equal amounts to the reduction mandated by the legal limits, but by only one tenth of the amount of reduction recommended by the voluntary limits.