Occupational Exposure Limits for hazardous substances

Working with hazardous substances is sometimes unavoidable. This website provides information on the Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) for hazardous substances. These limits have been established to minimise the risk of people’s health being damaged through their work.

Employers have to determine whether employees are working safely with hazardous substances. This can be done by comparing exposure with what is called the Occupational Exposure Limit of a substance. If the exposure is lower than the OEL, this means that the employees are generally sufficiently protected. The OELs of more than 2000 substances are recorded in the Occupational Exposure Limits for Hazardous Substances in the Workplace database.

Public and private OELs

For all hazardous substances, companies have to evaluate, as part of the Risk Inventory and Evaluation (RIE), the extent to which employees are working safely. If it is shown that there are risks, the companies have to draw up an action plan to prevent or limit risks presented by hazardous substances. In a majority of situations, the risk can be evaluated by means of OELs. Exposure to a hazardous substance must be lower than the statutory or public OEL. If no such limit exists, the employer will determine the OEL. This is the company or private OEL. Depending on the evaluation, it is decided what measures are necessary. The Dutch Working Conditions Act [Arbowet] requires the measures to be taken in a specific order, looking first at the source of the problem. This is referred to as an occupational health and safety strategy.

Why the SER?

Within the current occupational health system, employers and employees have an individual responsibility for handling hazardous substances safely in the workplace. For this reason, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) manages the Occupational Exposure Limits for Hazardous Substances in the Workplace database. Management is in the hands of the SER Subcommittee for Occupational Exposure Limits for Substances in the Workplace [SER-Subcommissie Grenswaarden Stoffen op de Werkplek]. This committee advises the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment on the achievability of statutory OELs for substances that have no safe level of exposure. These are often carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, as well as substances that can cause respiratory allergies. Mutagenic means that the substance can affect DNA.


The Occupational Exposure Limits database was compiled with the utmost care. The SER accepts no liability for the consequences of any errors and/or omissions.

Search in English

You can also search in the OEL database using the English name of the relevant substance. The OELs of substances are listed in an international notation in the database. Additional information is only provided in Dutch.