OSHA opens dialogue on toxic chem exposures (Update)
By Miles Moore, Senior Washington Reporter
WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2014) — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wants chemical manufacturers, chemical users and other stakeholders to give the agency their opinions on how best to prevent illnesses caused by workplace exposure to hazardous substances.
OSHA Administrator David Michaels unveiled the program in a teleconference Oct. 9, saying the agency seeks to open a dialogue about reducing workplace chemical levels. The agency followed this the next day with a request for information in the Federal Register providing details of the program and initiating a 180-day comment period.
There are tens of thousands of airborne substances in U.S. workplaces, Mr. Michaels said during the teleconference. But only about 500 have permissible exposure limits (PELs) set by OSHA, and most of those are dangerously out of date, he said.
OSHA's past efforts to update its PELs have been largely unsuccessful, with only about 30 updates and one new standard since 2000, according to Mr. Michaels.
“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, according to Mr. Michaels.
“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.”
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) praised the OSHA initiative in an Oct. 9 press release.
“Updating the PELs has been, and remains, the number one public policy issue for our members,” said AIHA President-Elect Daniel H. Anna. “The publication of this request for information marks a step forward for AIHA and other stakeholders who have long pushed for this update.”
Many chemicals have PELs dating back to 1970, the AIHA said.
OSHA is accepting comments on this action until April 8, 2015. To access the request for information, click here.
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