Preventing occupational illnesses through safer chemical management
On October 9, 2014 OSHA announced the publication of a Request for Information (RFI) on Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) in the Federal Register. With this publication, OSHA is launching a national dialogue on preventing occupational illness through improved approaches to managing exposures to hazardous chemicals. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number and prevent occupational illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals. The docket will be open for 180 days; the Agency is exploring additional ways to engage stakeholders on this topic.
The purpose of this dialogue is to engage stakeholders as to the best ways for the Agency to help employers and employees devise and implement risk management strategies to reduce or eliminate exposures to hazardous chemicals in the 21st century workplace environment. The Agency is seeking engagement with the public about possible modifications to existing risk assessment and feasibility analysis, and alternative approaches for managing chemical exposures, including hazard banding, task-based approaches, and informed substitution.
The publication of this RFI has no impact on OSHA's current enforcement policies.
Streamlining PEL Rulemaking
The current process for developing and revising PELs is guided by a combination of key court decisions as well as statutory and extensive regulatory requirements that have resulted in an extremely time and resource-intensive process. Although OSHA has attempted to update its PELs, the agency has not been successful, except for the promulgation of a few substance-specific health standard rulemakings (e.g., benzene, cadmium, lead and asbestos). However, a broad consensus exists among public health experts and practitioners, chemical manufacturers, and labor and employer groups that OSHA's PELs are woefully outdated and insufficiently protective of worker health. OSHA is seeking information about streamlining the current rulemaking process
Alternative Approaches to Chemical Management
Although OSHA has historically relied on developing and enforcing PELs to protect workers from exposures to hazardous chemicals, new strategies are needed to supplement these existing regulatory approaches. The Agency is seeking information on the best approaches for reducing or eliminating chemical exposures in the 21st century workplace environment. Some approaches the Agency is considering include: hazard banding, task-based approaches, and informed substitution.
What non-PEL based chemical management approaches could serve as models for OSHA?
How could OSHA use these or similar approaches in both regulatory and non-regulatory contexts?What are the benefits and limitations of these approaches?
The new due date for Chemical Management and PELs RFI comments is October 9, 2015.
Submit comments to the docket (No. OSHA-2012-0023) at http://www.regulations.gov
Facts About PELs
- PELs, or Permissible Exposure Limits, are regulations that establish the acceptable amount or concentration of a substance in the air in the workplace. They are intended to protect workers from adverse health effects related to hazardous chemical exposure.
- Of the thousands of chemicals used in workplaces, OSHA has PELs for less than 500.
- Many of the PELs have not been updated since 1971, and current scientific data suggests that, in many instances, the outdated PELs are not sufficiently protective of worker health.
- In 1989, OSHA attempted to update or set new PELS for more than 350 chemicals in a single rulemaking. Although OSHA presented analyses of the risks associated with these chemicals, as well as the feasibility and economic impacts, the analyses were not as detailed as those for individual rulemakings. The entire rulemaking was ultimately vacated by the Court.
- Workers are essentially covered by the same PELs as they were 40 years ago and, while OSHA has been given no new tools to control workplace exposures, it has had to conduct increasingly resource-intensive analyses that have slowed the PEL rulemaking process to a crawl. Since 1971, OSHA has been successful in establishing or updating PELs for only about 30 chemicals.