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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.
July 19, 2022
Nancy Simcox, MS, and Mary Miller, MN, RN
American Public Health Association
Occupational Health and Safety Section
Dear Ms. Simcox and Ms. Miller:
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received your letter outlining the American Public Health Association (APHA) policy, "Strengthening the Occupational Health and Safety Administration Standards for Inorganic Lead to Protect Workers' Health," and requesting information on the agency's plans to update the Lead standard for general industry.
I am pleased to inform you that on June 28, 2022, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to seek input from the public to help the agency identify areas of the Lead standards (for general industry and construction) where updates are needed to protect workers from adverse health effects of lead exposure (87 FR 38343). As you know, the Lead standards' medical removal levels of 50 and 60 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL), in construction and general industry, respectively, no longer conform to current medical guidelines. Therefore, the agency is reviewing the standards' blood lead level criteria for medical removal and return-to-work status. The ANPRM also seeks comment on the permissible exposure limit and requirements pertaining to medical surveillance, provisions for personal protective equipment, housekeeping, hygiene, and training, as well as employers' current practices that address workplace lead exposure and associated costs. The ANPRM is available on the Federal Register web page and on the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, Docket No. OSHA-2018-0004. OSHA is accepting comments on the ANPRM through August 29, 2022. We look forward to your input on the ANPRM.
[Correction 8/18/2022. OSHA has extended the period for submitting public comments by 60 days through October 28, 2022. Please see 87 FR 50803, August 18, 2022.]
We additionally note that the current Lead standards provide the examining physician with broad flexibility to tailor special protective measures to the needs of individual employees. For example, 29 CFR §1910.1025 Appendix C, Medical Surveillance Guidelines, states, "if the examining physician . . . recommends limitations on an employee's exposure to lead, then the employer must implement these recommendations. Recommendations may be more stringent than the specific provisions of the standard."
In addition, please be aware that OSHA has an ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) for lead (see https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/cpl-02-00-130) to prioritize enforcement of the Lead standards' provisions in general industry, construction, shipyards, marine terminals, and longshoring. The NEP also requires that referrals received from States' Departments of Health, Labor, or Industry alleging elevated employee blood lead levels (defined as blood lead levels at or above 25 µg/dL) and/or involving take-home exposures, be considered high-gravity serious and be handled by inspection. The agency is reviewing this NEP for updated enforcement guidance. OSHA also advises its field offices of additional resources regarding lead as they become available. For example, OSHA alerted regional administrators about the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists' Management Guidelines for Blood Lead Levels in Adults when they were published (see https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2013-11-25).
Your letter also mentioned OSHA's open enforcement case with a battery recycling facility and secondary lead smelter, Envirofocus Technologies, LLC, dba Gopher Resource, LLC, Tampa, Florida. Since your letter, you may have seen that OSHA's investigation found that this employer willfully exposed its workers to unsafe levels of airborne lead, despite experts' warnings, and that OSHA issued violations with $319K in proposed penalties (see OSHA News Release at https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/region4/09302021).
Furthermore, OSHA continues to monitor the latest research information on occupational health hazards. OSHA regularly updates its Lead Safety and Health Topics webpage (see https://www.osha.gov/lead) to incorporate new information and issue guidance, in the form of OSHA FactSheets and QuickCards on topics such as take-home lead, to assist employers in preventing lead exposure in the workplace and to assist them in improving their compliance with the current standards.
In summary, OSHA is moving forward with the ANPRM to address the issues concerning the lead standards pointed out in your letter. Thank you for your interest in worker safety and health and our shared concern for workers who are exposed to lead in the workplace.
Douglas L. Parker