An occupational exposure limit is an upper limit on the acceptable concentration of a hazardous substance in workplace air. It is typically set by competent national authorities and enforced by legislation to protect occupational safety and health. However, in an attempt of harmonization at EU level, the European Commission has established three types of limit values:

  • Indicative Occupational Exposure Limit Values (IOELV)
  • Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Values (BOELV)
  • Biological Limit Values (BLVs)


The formal legislative procedure for developing EU OELVs can be found at the official website of DG EMPL. Important to note is that the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limit Values (SCOEL) is mandated to advise the European Commission on occupational exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace. It does this through the preparation of scientific recommendations for the Commission. During this procedure, draft recommendations from SCOEL undergo a stakeholder consultation to allow interested parties to submit health-based scientific comments and further data.

While IOELVS are health-based, non-binding values, BOELVS take account of socio-economic and technical feasibility factors. Therefore, when setting a BOELV policy considerations are of major importance. For any chemical agent for which an indicate OEL value is established at EU level, Member States must establish a national exposure limit value, taking into account the Community indicative limit value, determining its nature in accordance with national legislation and practice. For a chemical agent with a BOELV, Member States must establish a corresponding national binding OEL value which can be stricter, but cannot exceed the Community limit value. Exposure limit values for each country should be checked for in the national legislation.

A number of glycol ethers have IOELVs established for them, which are listed below:

Directive Substances 8hr TWA 15 min STEL Notation
mg/m3 ppm mg/m3 ppm
2000/39 PGME 375 100 568 150 Skin
2000/39 PGMA 275 50 550 100 Skin
2000/39 DPGME 308 50 Skin
2000/39 EGBE 98 20 246 50 Skin
2000/39 EGBEA 133 20 333 50 Skin
2006/15 DEGME 50,1 10 Skin
2006/15 DEGBEA 67,5 10 101,2 15
2009/161 EGME 1 Skin
2009/161 EGMEA 8 2 Skin
2009/161 EGEE Skin
2009/161 EGEEA 11 2 Skin

BLVs are reference values for the evaluation of potential health risks in the practice of occupational health. They are established on the basis of currently available scientific data. Exposure concentrations equivalent to the BLV generally do not affect the health of the employee adversely. An overview of established BLVs for glycol ethers is given below:

SUM Substances BLV Date of adoption
120 EGME
8 mg methoxyacetic acid/g creatinine in urine (end of work-week after at least 2 weeks at work) September 2006
116 EGEE
50 mg 2-ethoxyacetic acid/l urine (40 mg 2-ethoxyacetic acid/g creatinine) August 2007