OSHA Publishing RFI on Updated PELs

The agency asks for comments on the 205-page request for information to be submitted within 180 days.

Is it possible OSHA will get something done on the thorny issue of antiquated permissible exposure limits (PELs) during Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels' tenure? Perhaps; the agency will publish a 205-page request for information on Oct. 10 that seeks stakeholder comments on how to move forward, with most of the RFI asking about a variety of approaches.

During an Oct. 9 news conference, Michaels said there are thousands of unregulated chemicals being used in U.S. workplaces, and OSHA has PELs for fewer than 500 chemicals in all, "many of them dangerously out of date," he said.

Updating the agency's outdated PELS has been a priority for industrial hygiene professional associations and safety professionals in general. OSHA was stymied years ago by a federal appeals court's decision that wiped out an effort to update many PELS in a single rulemaking.

Michaels also said OSHA's process for updating PELs is broken. "There's gotta be a better way. If we go chemical by chemical, it'll take us centuries," he said.

"Updating the PELs has been, and remains, the number one public policy issue for our members," said American Industrial Hygiene Association President-elect Daniel H. Anna, Ph.D., CIH, CSP. "The publication of this RFI marks a step forward for AIHA and other stakeholders who have long pushed for this update. We will continue to do everything possible to see that the problem of outdated PELs is addressed by OSHA and the federal government."

AIHA announced that a session at its 2014 Fall Conference will provide a forum for attendees to discuss options that might be considered to update the PELs. The discussion will take place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 21 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Washington, D.C. Presenter William Perry, CIH, director of the OSHA Directorate of Standards and Guidance, will outline the type of information the agency is requesting from stakeholders.

The RFI discusses that important appeals court case and others. It says OSHA "is particularly interested in information about how it may take advantage of newer approaches, given its legal requirements," adding, "This RFI is concerned primarily with chemicals that cause adverse health effects from long-term occupational exposure, and is not related to activities being conducted under Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security." (The executive order directed several agencies, including DOL, to examine and find ways to improve chemical facilities security, and it was issued following the West, Texas, ammonium nitrate explosion.)

To submit comments, visit www.regulations.gov and search for Docket No. OSHA 2012-0023.

The RFI begins discussing potential alternative approaches at page 85. They include control banding, occupational exposure bands, health hazard banding, HazCom and GHS, and "informed substitution." Some EPA databases are discussed as sources of information about chemical hazards.

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