- Standard Number:
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
December 6, 1990
Mr. O'Jay Niles
Director, Product Services
American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Inc.
1801 K Street, N. W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Dear Mr. Niles:
This is in response to your letter of September 12, to Mr. H. Berrien Zettler, requesting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review the requirement for adjusting cotton dust permissible exposure limits (PELs) for extended work shifts.
You take issue with a memorandum dated July 18, 1990, from the Atlanta Regional Office to the Atlanta Area Office relating that when cotton dust exposure for the work day exceeds 8 hours, the cotton dust PEL must be proportionately reduced for the purpose of determining the need for respiratory protection. You state that this is a new interpretation and represents a major shift in enforcement policy, that it is in direct contradiction to the agency's field compliance guide, and that it is inconsistent with the language of the cotton dust standard. You explain that you recognize that OSHA's respirator-use enforcement policy calls for adjustment of the PEL for work shifts longer than eight hours, but the policy was issued at a time when cotton dust was still classified in Work Schedule Category 4, which requires adjustment.
Contrary to your belief, the July 18th memorandum does not present a new interpretation nor provide any shift in enforcement policy. Rather it reaffirms the continued applicability of the respirator-use enforcement policy published in the Federal Register, Vol. 45, No. 251, pp. 85736-85739 (copy enclosed). Also, contrary to your belief, when the policy was issued cotton dust was not still classified in Work Schedule Category 4. It automatically shifted from work schedule category 4 to work schedule category 1C on March 27, 1980. That is the date when new cotton dust permissible limits set at the lowest feasible level in new standard 29 CFR 1910.1043 became effective and enforceable. This automatic shift occurred on the basis of the guidelines in the OSHA Technical Manual in effect on March 27, 1980, which identifies substances belonging in Category 1C by stating:
The PELs of substances assigned to this category have been set either by technologic feasibility (e.g., vinyl chloride) or good hygiene practices (e.g., methyl acetylene). These factors are independent of the length or frequency of work shifts. The PELs for substances in this category should not be adjusted.
The cotton dust compliance manual, issued January 16, 1981, only 17 days after the respirator-use enforcement policy was issued, only conveyed the information that cotton dust was in Work Schedule Category 1C.
The drafters of the respirator-use enforcement policy knew the PELs for cotton dust were set at the lowest feasible level, but nonetheless, included the requirement that for work shifts longer than eight hours, the maximum allowable average cotton dust concentrations must be proportionately reduced.
The notice established that cotton dust permissible exposure limits must be proportionately reduced for extended work shifts for the purpose of determining whether respirators must be worn and how long they must be worn. However, OSHA continues to follow an enforcement policy of not citing employers for inadequate engineering controls when no employee's highest eight hours of exposure during an extended work shift exceeds the 8-hour permissible exposure limit. Also, when an employee is not exposed above the 8-hour permissible exposure limit, but is exposed above the proportionately reduced permissible exposure limit for an extended work shift, OSHA does not cite the employer for overexposing the employee if the employer has instituted a respirator program for protecting the employee that complies with OSHA's requirements.
OSHA does not believe the information it currently possesses on the health hazards of cotton dust supports modifying its respirator-use enforcement policy published in the Federal Register on December 30, 1980, so as to permit employers to expose their employees for more than 8- hours to a cotton dust concentration equaling the 8-hour PEL. Moreover, it would not do so without first inviting and considering public comment.
If you have further questions or need more clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Patricia K. Clark, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs
September 12, 1990
Mr. H. Berrien Zettler
Deputy Director, Compliance Programs
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Mr. Zettler:
Thank you for meeting August 29 with representatives from the textile and cotton industries to discuss requirements and enforcement of the cotton dust standard for extended work shifts. This is a very important issue for our industries and one that could have major impacts on many of our members.
OSHA's interpretation that the respirator-use policy published in December 1980 requires adjustment of the cotton dust PEL for workshifts longer than 8 hours came as a complete surprise to us. This is a new interpretation and represents a major shift in enforcement policy. It is in direct contradiction to the agency's field compliance guide and, in our view, is inconsistent with the language of the Cotton Dust Standard itself.
Section 1910.1043(f)(1) of the Cotton Dust Standard specifies five situations in which the use of respirators is required. Only one of these is relevant in the case of extended work shifts. Section 1910.1043(f)(1)(iii) provides for the use of respirators "in work situations where feasible engineering and work practice controls are not sufficient to reduce exposure to or below the permissible exposure limits."
The PEL in yarn manufacturing, of course, is 200 g/m3 averaged over an eight-hour period. The Cotton Dust Compliance Manual (CPL 2-2.31) issued in January 1981 and revised in June 1985, specifically provides that the PELs for cotton dust "shall not be adjusted for novel work shift schedules." To implement this interpretation, the Compliance Manual explicitly changes the work category for cotton dust from Category 4 (which contemplates adjustment for novel work shifts) to Category 1C (which clearly states that no adjustment in the PEL shall be made for novel work shifts). Thus, the PEL for cotton dust in yarn manufacturing is 200 g/m3, even when the work shift exceeds eight hours. If engineering controls and work practices are sufficient to reduce airborne levels of cotton dust to 200 g/m3 over the course of an extended work shift, the PEL will not have been exceeded and there would be no need to use respirators to comply with section 1910.1043(f)(1)(iii) of the standard.
We recognize that OSHA's respirator-use enforcement policy calls for adjustment of the PEL for work shifts longer than eight hours. However, that policy was issued at a time when cotton dust was still classified in Work Category 4, which requires adjustment. It was effectively superseded in 1981 when cotton dust was changed to Category 1C. Clearly, no adjustment is currently required.
The Cotton Dust Compliance Manual (CPL 2-2.31) has provided the guiding interpretation for OSHA and our industry over the past several years. It has been a keystone in major industry decisions on installation of expensive engineering controls and the wide adoption of extended work shifts. Extended work shifts have become the norm for the textile industry and a sudden change in the enforcement policy would pose serious problems for the plants. You can appreciate, I'm sure, that this new interpretation will create significant technical problems and result in an administrative nightmare for our members and their workers.
The subject of PEL adjustment was included in discussions from 1978-80 on revisions to the cotton dust standard. Those discussions were reflected in OSHA's decision to change the work category for cotton dust from Category 4 to Category 1C.
We firmly believe that extended work shifts offer distinct advantages to the workers over 8-hour shifts:
The risk to workers on typical 12-hour shifts is no greater than it is to those on 8-hour shifts.
The practice of working three 12-hour shifts one week and four the next results in lower cumulative exposure, longer recovery periods and, therefore, lower risk than with 8-hour, 5-day workweeks.
Extended work shifts are more popular, primarily because of the extended off-work periods.
Record keeping and administrative requirements are simpler.
Because of the importance of this issue to our industry, we feel any proposed change in the requirement for adjustment should be developed through rulemaking and not by administrative change in the compliance policy.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough our concern over this new interpretation and we welcome your agreement to review it. We are receiving inquiries daily from our members for direction and ask that you advise us as soon as possible when that review has been completed.
And, finally, we urge that all compliance actions relative to adjustment of the PEL for extended workshifts be deferred pending completion of the review.
If we can be helpful in your review, please let us know.
Director, Product Services