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Labor and Industry Support Changes
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today amended the 1997 methylene chloride (MC) standard, benefitting workers and employers.
"This amendment to our final rule is supported by both labor and industry," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Charles N. Jeffress. "It addresses industry needs but at the same time ensures the safeguards necessary for workers. By overcoming legal challenges to the standard, we are able to move forward with a rule that provides critical protections within a reasonable time frame."
One modification responds to a United Auto Workers (UAW) request to add temporary medical removal benefits (pay and other benefits for up to six months) for employees who are temporarily removed or transferred to another job because of a medical determination that exposure to MC may aggravate or contribute to the employee's existing skin, heart, liver or neurological disease.
Other modifications requested by the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA) involve extending the startup dates by which some employers using MC in certain applications must achieve the permissible exposure limits (PELs) by using engineering controls.
The 1997 standard requires employers with fewer than 20 employees to complete installation of engineering controls by April 10, 2000, and larger employers to do so by earlier dates.
These amendments apply the final April 10, 2000, startup date for engineering controls to employers with 20-49 employees in the following application groups: furniture refinishing; aircraft paint stripping in general aviation; formulation of products containing methylene chloride; use of MC-based adhesives for boat building and repair, recreational vehicle manufacturing, van conversion or upholstery; and the use of methylene chloride in construction work for restoration and preservation of buildings, painting and paint removal, cabinet making and/or floor refinishing and resurfacing. The April 10, 2000 startup date now also applies to foam fabricators with 20-149 employees.
OSHA is also granting shorter extensions of the existing engineering control startup dates for certain larger employers as follows: polyurethane foam manufacturers with 20 or more employees, Oct. 10, 1999; foam fabricators with 150 or more employees, April 10, 1999; and other employers with 50 or more employees in the application groups in the paragraph above, April 10, 1999. Most of these changes allow employers approximately 12 to 24 months more time than was given in the published standard. (The number of employees refers to the total number of workers employed by that employer, not the number who work at a particular facility or the number that use methylene chloride in their work.)
Another modification for employers covered by the amendment would defer the requirement to use respirators to achieve the 8-hour time-weighted average PEL of 25 parts per million (25 ppm) until the engineering control startup dates have passed. This change will enable many employers to avoid respirator use entirely.
OSHA decided to modify the respirator requirement to allow employers to concentrate on developing and installing engineering controls, which are a permanent solution to MC overexposures. The only respirators effective against MC are supplied air respirators, which are relatively expensive. OSHA believes employees will be better protected in the long run if employers can use their limited resources for engineering controls.
In the interim period, employers must still meet the short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 125 ppm over a 15-minute period by using some combination of engineering controls, work practice controls and/or respirator use, and must institute feasible work practices to lower exposure levels.
Some concern was voiced about whether employers would know if their employees were being exposed above the STEL because methylene chloride has no odor until concentrations substantially exceed the STEL. OSHA is requiring that those employers who receive extensions of the engineering control and respirator compliance deadlines must conduct additional STEL monitoring during the period covered by those extensions.
The MC standard promulgated on Jan. 10, 1997, affects 92,000 firms employing about a quarter of a million workers. Workers who breathe MC vapors risk developing cancer and worsening cardiac disease. The new exposure limit, a 20-fold decrease from the 500 parts per million (ppm) limit set more than 25 years ago, will prevent an estimated 30 cancer deaths each year.
The UAW and HSIA had agreed to withdraw their legal challenges to the standard if these amendments were adopted.
The extensions of compliance deadlines become effective on publication in the Federal Register. The provisions for medical removal benefits and STEL monitoring become effective Oct. 22,1998.
States and territories with their own occupational safety and health plans must adopt comparable standards within six months. These states and territories include Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, Washington, and Wyoming. Connecticut and New York, whose plans cover public employees only, also must adopt a comparable standard.
Notice of the final rule is published in the Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1998, Federal Register.
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