Tuesday, September 22, 1998
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151
Labor and Industry Support Changes
OSHA AMENDS METHYLENE CHLORIDE STANDARD,
BENEFITTING WORKERS AND EMPLOYERS
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) today amended the 1997 methylene chloride
(MC) standard, benefitting workers and employers.
"This amendment to our final rule is supported by
both labor and industry," said Assistant Secretary
of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Charles
N. Jeffress. "It addresses industry needs but at
the same time ensures the safeguards necessary for
workers. By overcoming legal challenges to the
standard, we are able to move forward with a rule
that provides critical protections within a reasonable
One modification responds to a United Auto Workers
(UAW) request to add temporary medical removal
benefits (pay and other benefits for up to six months)
for employees who are temporarily removed or transferred
to another job because of a medical determination
that exposure to MC may aggravate or contribute to
the employee's existing skin, heart, liver or
Other modifications requested by the Halogenated
Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA) involve extending
the startup dates by which some employers using MC
in certain applications must achieve the permissible
exposure limits (PELs) by using engineering controls.
The 1997 standard requires employers with fewer
than 20 employees to complete installation of
engineering controls by
April 10, 2000, and larger employers to do so
by earlier dates.
These amendments apply the final April 10, 2000,
startup date for engineering controls to employers
with 20-49 employees in the following application
groups: furniture refinishing; aircraft paint stripping
in general aviation; formulation of products
containing methylene chloride; use of MC-based adhesives
for boat building and repair, recreational vehicle
manufacturing, van conversion or upholstery; and
the use of methylene chloride in construction work
for restoration and preservation of buildings,
painting and paint removal, cabinet making and/or
floor refinishing and resurfacing. The April 10,
2000 startup date now also applies to foam fabricators
with 20-149 employees.
OSHA is also granting shorter extensions of the
existing engineering control startup dates for
certain larger employers as follows: polyurethane
foam manufacturers with 20 or more employees, Oct.
10, 1999; foam fabricators with 150 or more employees,
April 10, 1999; and other employers with 50 or
more employees in the application groups in the
paragraph above, April 10, 1999. Most of these
changes allow employers approximately 12 to 24
months more time than was given in the published
standard. (The number of employees refers to the
total number of workers employed by that employer,
not the number who work at a particular facility
or the number that use methylene chloride in
Another modification for employers covered by
the amendment would defer the requirement to
use respirators to achieve the 8-hour time-weighted
average PEL of 25 parts per million (25 ppm)
until the engineering control startup dates have
passed. This change will enable many employers to
avoid respirator use entirely.
OSHA decided to modify the respirator requirement
to allow employers to concentrate on developing
and installing engineering controls, which are a
permanent solution to MC overexposures. The only
respirators effective against MC are supplied
air respirators, which are relatively expensive.
OSHA believes employees will be better protected
in the long run if employers can use their limited
resources for engineering controls.
In the interim period, employers must still meet
the short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 125 ppm
over a 15-minute period by
using some combination of engineering controls,
work practice controls and/or respirator use, and
must institute feasible work practices to lower
Some concern was voiced about whether employers
would know if their employees were being exposed
above the STEL because methylene chloride has no
odor until concentrations substantially exceed the
STEL. OSHA is requiring that those employers
who receive extensions of the engineering control
and respirator compliance deadlines must conduct
additional STEL monitoring during the period
covered by those extensions.
The MC standard promulgated on Jan. 10,
1997, affects 92,000 firms employing about
a quarter of a million workers. Workers who
breathe MC vapors risk developing cancer and
worsening cardiac disease. The new exposure
limit, a 20-fold decrease from the 500 parts
per million (ppm) limit set more than 25 years
ago, will prevent an estimated 30 cancer
deaths each year.
The UAW and HSIA had agreed to withdraw their
legal challenges to the standard if these
amendments were adopted.
The extensions of compliance deadlines become
effective on publication in the Federal Register.
The provisions for medical removal benefits and
STEL monitoring become effective Oct. 22,1998.
States and territories with their own occupational
safety and health plans must adopt comparable
standards within six months. These states and
territories include Alaska, Arizona, California,
Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan,
Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina,
Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee,
Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, Washington,
and Wyoming. Connecticut and New York, whose
plans cover public employees only, also must
adopt a comparable standard.
Notice of the final rule is published in the
Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1998, Federal Register.