WASHINGTON (Oct. 10, 2014) — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is launching a national dialogue with chemical manufacturers and users on methods to prevent illnesses caused by workplace exposure to hazardous substances, the agency has announced.
OSHA Administrator David Michaels unveiled the program in a teleconference Oct. 9. Further details of the program — including a 180-day comment period — will be released in a notice soon to be published in the Federal Register, Mr. Michaels said.
There are tens of thousands of airborne substances in U.S. workplaces, according to Mr. Michaels. But only about 500 have permissible exposure limits (PELs) set by OSHA, and most of those are dangerously out of date.
OSHA's past efforts to update its PELs have been largely unsuccessful, with only about 30 updates and one new standard since 2000, Mr. Michaels noted.
“Many workers are being exposed to levels of toxic substances that are legal but not safe,” he said. “This new dialogue will show the world what we can do to protect our most valuable resource — our workers.
“This effort is aimed not just at standards, but at new approaches. Every chemical firm says it has standards stronger than OSHA's. We want to look at the issues and come up with approaches that may be regulatory, but may not be.
“This should prove effective before we even issue new standards.”
Among the approaches OSHA wants to consider are “control bonding” and “hazard bonding,” which group chemicals according to their properties and control them using the same methods, Mr. Michaels said.
“We have to assess the feasibility of these approaches, and that can take years,” he said. “There's got to be a better way to approach this issue. If we do it chemical by chemical, it could take centuries.”