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Employee Exposure and Medical Records Act – OSHA Law Requiring Employers to Track Employees’ Exposures to Toxins in the Workplace

Published on August 7th, 2020 by Andrew Hughes

Workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals can work around those chemicals for years with no knowledge of the long-term effects of exposure. Many retire seemingly healthy, but years later develop cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), multiple myeloma (MM), and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Prior to 1980, it was a near-impossible task for mechanics, operators, mixers, loaders, plumbers, testers, foremen, and other individuals who were working with dangerous toxins to determine which chemicals they were working with ten, twenty, or even thirty years earlier.   

For this and other reasons, on May 23, 1980, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgated the Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records Standard, or the EEMR. The stated purpose of the act is to provide employees and their representatives access to relevant exposure data and medical records. This access is intended to help treating doctors know what their patients were working with, and also to assist employers in making decisions to prevent, or at least limit, occupational diseases arising from working with or around toxic chemicals. 

The expectations for employers include air monitoring in areas where employees work with or around certain chemicals. Examples of “employee exposure records” include industrial hygiene samples of chemicals, dust, and noise levels; material safety data sheets; and chemical records or inventories showing where and when these chemicals were used. Employers should then be able to use the knowledge gained from this testing to determine which employees should be provided with which type of personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers are also required to compile medical information about employees who have become sick. That information along with the testing data should allow employers to tighten safety standards, thereby reducing the incidence of employees developing cancers and other occupational diseases. 

Chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and methyl chloride (MC) are understood to be so toxic that employers are required to collect, maintain, and keep records on how their employees would have been exposed to TCE or MC for 30 years. In some cases, the records must be kept for 30 years after the employee retires or leaves the company. OSHA understood the importance of those with occupational diseases to access these records quickly, and therefore employers must turn over the necessary records within 15 days of an employee making a written request. Employers who willfully violate the act can be fined $10,000, and even be imprisoned for 6 months. Destruction of relevant records is generally considered a “willful” violation of the EEMR. 

The responsibility for keeping and maintaining EEMR does not end when companies are sold to or merged with other companies, or when plants close. If a company is sold or merges with another company, the records, and responsibility for keeping them are to be moved to the new entity. If a company goes out of business, the records are moved to OSHA. Companies are not permitted to escape liability by telling sick employees that they do not have records of what they worked with and when.

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