- 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 http://www.osha.gov.
January 13, 2003
Mr. Frank White
Organization Resources Counselors, Inc.
1910 Sunderland Place, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1608
Dear Mr. White:
Thank you for your letter of November 2, 2000 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Compliance Programs. In your letter, you requested guidance specifically on 29 CFR 1926.62(h)(1), 1926.62(i)(2)(i), and 1926.62(i)(4)(ii), regarding allowable levels of lead-contaminated dust on workplace surfaces. Please excuse this long delay in response, but be assured that this issue has received thorough evaluation in an effort to provide an appropriate answer.
The paragraphs you referenced in your letter are from the Lead-in-Construction Standard, 29 CFR 1926.62, and concern housekeeping and hygiene. Your questions had to do with the level of measurable lead contamination which meets the definition of practicable for areas such as rafters.
The requirements of 29 CFR 1926.62 at Section 1926.62(h)(1) state that "All surfaces shall be maintained as free as practicable of accumulations of lead." Section 1926.62(i)(2)(i) of this standard requires that "The employer shall provide clean change areas for employees whose airborne exposure to lead is above the permissible exposure level ..." Section 1926.62(i)(4)(ii) requires that "The employer shall assure that lunchroom facilities or eating areas are as free as practicable from lead contamination..." Also, in the Compliance Directive for the Interim Standard for Lead in Construction, CPL 2-2.58, OSHA recommends the use of HUD's acceptable decontamination level of 200 ug/ft2 for floors in evaluating the cleanliness of change areas, storage facilities, and lunchrooms/eating areas.
The term "practicable" was used in the standard, as each workplace will have to address different challenges to ensure that lead-surface contamination is kept to a minimum. It is OSHA's view that a housekeeping program which is as rigorous as "practicable" is necessary in many jobs to keep airborne lead levels below permissible exposure conditions at a particular site. The intent of the standard was that this be accomplished primarily by vacuuming floors, rafters, and other surfaces, or by methods equally effective in preventing the dispersal of lead into the workplace. Re-entrainment of lead dust is an additional source of exposure and one that engineering controls are not generally designed to control. Clean-up is an exceptionally important provision of the standard as it minimizes the re-entrainment of lead dust into the air.
The proposed language for this provision required that "surfaces...be maintained free of accumulation of lead which, if dispersed, would result in airborne concentrations above the permissible exposure limit." This requirement would be very difficult for the employer to comply with, and OSHA to enforce, because it would be nearly impossible to objectively determine when the condition in the standard would occur. OSHA's view, therefore, is that a rigorous housekeeping program is absolutely necessary to keep airborne lead levels below permissible limits but that the obligation should be measured by "practicability." As you are aware, the requirement to maintain surfaces "as free as practicable" is performance-oriented. No quantitative levels of lead in dust are identified by the standard. The requirement is met when the employer is vigilant in his efforts to ensure that surfaces are kept free of accumulations of lead-containing dust. The role of the Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) is to evaluate the employer's housekeeping schedule, the possibility of exposure from these surfaces, and the characteristics of the workplace.
In situations where employees are in direct contact with lead-contaminated surfaces, such as working surfaces or floors in change rooms, storage facilities and, of course, lunchroom and eating facilities, OSHA has stated that the Agency would not expect surfaces to be any cleaner than the 200-ug/ft2 HUD level. As discussed above, for other surfaces such as rafters, no specific level can be set to define how "clean is clean" nor what level of lead contamination meets the definition of "practicable." The intent of this provision is to ensure that employers regularly clean and conduct housekeeping activities to prevent avoidable lead exposure, such as those potentially caused by re-entrained lead dust.
You also inquired whether contaminated surfaces (such as rafters) must be cleaned or whether the employer can address the potential exposure through alternative methods, such as sealing the lead in place. The intent of the "as-free-as-practicable" requirement is to ensure that accumulations of lead dust do not become sources of employee lead exposures. Therefore, any method that achieves this end is acceptable.
We hope you find this information helpful and thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. 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 interpretations of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to the 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 OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202)693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs