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 http://www.osha.gov.

May 15, 1997

[Name Withheld]

Dear [Name Withheld]:

Your letter dated January 27, along with the letters of twelve other workers that you attached and sent to President Clinton, has been forwarded to this office for a response. The purpose of this letter is to provide you with an update of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) regulations and proposed regulations for chemicals used in the workplace, and in particular, glutaraldehyde. Please accept our apology for the delay in our response.

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, is designed to ensure that employees are informed of the hazards associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. Manufacturers evaluate the chemicals they produce and prepare a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to be used by "downstream" users of those products. The HCS requires that all employers (including those in the health care industry) develop a written HCS program and train employees on the hazards of the chemicals and methods to protect against exposure. If new or significant information regarding a potential hazard to a chemical is discovered, the employer is required to obtain an updated MSDS. Employees have a right to file a complaint with their local OSHA office if they believe their employer is not in compliance with OSHA standards. The complainant's name would be kept confidential if requested. You or your co-workers may choose this option if you have current information that your employer is not in compliance with the HCS.

Since 1988, OSHA has been working on a project to update the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for air contaminants codified in 29 CFR 1910.1000, Tables Z-1, Z-2, and Z-3. This would lower the existing PELs for 212 toxic substances and add 164 new air contaminants to the current list of PELs. Glutaraldehyde is one of the new chemicals the agency plans to add to the air contaminants that OSHA regulates. The final rule for this project was vacated in 1992 by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In summary, the Courts said that OSHA failed to show a significant risk and failed to show the new PELs were economically or technologically feasible. OSHA's intention is to move forward in addressing the Court's concerns by relying on a risk-based prioritization.

I hope this letter helps to reassure you that OSHA is working toward making the work environment a healthier place. Thank you for your interest in safety and health. If you have further questions, please contact your local OSHA Office which is as follows:

U.S. Department of Labor - OSHA
Gateway Building, Suite 2100
3535 Market Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Telephone: (215) 596-1201

Sincerely,

John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs