The U.K. is a member state of the EU. It administers its occupational exposure laws through the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), both of which were established under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. The HSC is a tripartite group representing industry, government, and labor. It sets policy and oversees the HSE which is the governmental enforcement agency. The 1988 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health or “COSHH” Regulations, which implement the Health and Safety at Work Act, states: “Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.” The COSHH regulations came into force on October 1, 1990. Under these regulations there are two classes of occupational exposure:
- MEL – Maximum Exposure Level
This is the maximum concentration of an airborne substance averaged over a reference period (generally eight hours) to which employees may be exposed by inhalation under any circumstances.
- OES – Occupational Exposure Standard
This is the concentration of an airborne substance averaged over a reference period at which, according to current knowledge, there is no evidence that there are likely to be injuries to employees if they are exposed by inhalation day after day to said concentration.
These definitions and the actual values are published in an HSE guidance note, EH40, which is issued annually. In practice, nickel metal and water- insoluble nickel compounds currently have MELs of 0.5 mg Ni/m3 while the MEL for water- soluble nickel is 0.1 mg Ni/m3. There is a ten- minute short-term OES for nickel carbonyl of 0.24 mg Ni/m3. In addition, the European Carcinogens Directive has been translated in the U.K. into an “advisory code of practice” under COSHH, effective January 1, 1993.