OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
News Release USDL: 96-77
Friday, March 1, 1996
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151
OSHA Announces That Styrene Industry Has Adopted Voluntary Compliance Program To Improve Worker Protection
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today announced that industries using styrene have adopted a voluntary compliance program to protect their employees. About 90,000 workers, including those who make boats, tubs and showers, are potentially exposed to styrene, an air contaminant that has a narcotic effect.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Joseph A. Dear said, "These industries should be commended for stepping forward and demonstrating their willingness to serve as our partner in guaranteeing better health protection for their workers."
The program will voluntarily lower styrene exposure limits to the levels set by OSHA in its January, 1989, rule on permissible exposure limits (PELs) for air contaminants. The limits were later vacated by court order. The 1989 limits for styrene will give better protection than the 1971 limits that OSHA has been forced to use because of the court action.
The program also will include industry-wide communication, training and voluntary efforts to determine employer compliance with the more protective 1989 limits.
The 1989 rule said that styrene concentrations in workplace air should not exceed 50 ppm (parts per million) for an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The short-term exposure limit (for 15 minutes) was established at 100 ppm. The substance was to be regulated on the basis of avoidance of narcotic effects upon workers.
However, in July 1992, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit invalidated the entire rule, which had established PELs for 164 substances not previously regulated by OSHA and revised the PELs for 212 others, including styrene.
Although the PEL for styrene was not one of the approximately 15 limits ultimately challenged by various plaintiffs, the court vacated the styrene PEL along with all the others.
OSHA responded to the court ruling by publishing a revised table of PELs that reinstated 1971 levels. For styrene, the standard reverted back to the previous levels of 100 ppm TWA, 200 ppm ceiling, and a 600 ppm 5-minute peak.
The styrene industry includes styrene monomer manufacturers, polymer producers and downstream users of styrene in the reinforced plastics industry.
Based on information the industry provided to OSHA for the 1989 rulemaking, the final (1989) rule on styrene was viewed by industry as fair and equitable.
In a Jan. 29, 1996, letter to Dear, John B. Jenks, chairman of the Society of the Plastic Industry, Inc.'s Styrene Information & Research Center, and nine other industry officials declared willingness to comply with the lower limits. They expressed disappointment in the court's decision to vacate the styrene portion of the standard both OSHA and industry had worked so hard to produce.
The voluntary compliance program calls for the use of engineering controls where feasible, or work practices or respiratory protection to achieve the voluntary limits.
"Most of the styrene monomer manufacturers and polymer producers can currently achieve the 50 ppm voluntary limit with engineering controls. However, for the reinforced plastics industry, certain operations are very difficult to control solely through engineering controls and work practices. These operations, for example, include open molding and gelcoat operations using manual lay-up and spray-up processes. Therefore, for those difficult-to-control operations, respiratory protection may be needed to achieve the new 50 ppm level," the letter said.
A comprehensive communication effort will be undertaken to assure that all U.S. facilities producing and using styrene are made aware of the voluntary compliance program and the responsibility to achieve the new limits.
Comprehensive training programs will be held regionally, in areas close to reinforced plastics facilities. The topical content and program materials assembled for the training will be provided to OSHA for review.
Employers are to assess compliance with the voluntary standard. In July, 1996, and July, 1997, that data will be compiled and made available to OSHA. The purpose is to demonstrate progress in achieving the voluntary limit, and to indicate the extent of work that remains to be done. It will be presented in summarized form, and individual companies will not be identified.
Semiannual reports will be made to OSHA on the progress of implementing the plan. OSHA will make the reports and training materials available to affected employee organizations.
The goal is to comply with the lower limits by July, 1997.
Others signing the letter to Dear were Betsy M. Shirley, executive director of the Styrene Information & Research Center; Kevin Sullivan, chairman, and Catherine Randazzo, executive director, of the Society of the Plastic Industry, Inc.'s Composites Institute; Lowell Miles, chairman, and Melissa Henriksen, executive director, of the Composites Fabricators Association; Roy Montgomery, chairman, and Jeff Napier, president, of the National Marine Manufacturers Association; and Mike Smith, chairman, and Bari Moorefield, executive director of the International Cast Polymer Association.
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