OSHA, NIOSH to Refine List of Chemicals To Consider for Updating Exposure Rules

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are continuing to refine a list of chemicals that will receive special attention as the agency seeks to address its outdated permissible exposure limits, OSHA Administrator David Michaels told BNA Jan. 10.

Most of the exposure limits set for the nearly 500 chemicals OSHA regulates were set in 1971, when the agency was created. The science used to set these limit dates back to the 1960s.

Once it has refined that list, OSHA will look at a number of different approaches to addressing exposures to those chemicals, including targeted enforcement and providing information on protective measures, Michaels said in an e-mail.

In addition, the agency is continuing to discuss covering chemical exposures more broadly as part of its injury and illness prevention program rulemaking, he added.

“Coverage of chemicals under the Injury and Illness Prevention Program is also a subject of discussion, although this would likely not be limited to a small, specific list of chemicals,” Michaels wrote. “The first step is to select the appropriate chemicals--and that will be followed by determinations as to how best to ensure workers exposed to them are protected.”

The work continues after OSHA took a number of steps in 2010 to reconsider how to address exposure limits, including bringing together stakeholders in June to discuss options as well as the request in August for the public to identify hazardous chemicals in most urgent need of action (40 OSHR 696, 8/19/10).

From more than 130 nominations of chemicals it received as a result of that request, OSHA has developed a draft list of 16 compounds that will be reviewed in more detail, which includes isocyanates, manganese, styrene, n-propyl bromide, and perchloroethylene, Michaels wrote.

Those examples coincide with information on a list of chemicals NIOSH submitted to OSHA in 2010. OSHA also requested information from NIOSH on hexane, toluene, acetone, carbon monoxide, diesel fumes, mercury, glutaraldehyde, anesthetic gas, welding fumes, chemotherapeutic drugs, and tricholoroethylene, NIOSH Director John Howard previously told BNA (40 OSHR 761, 9/16/10).

Next Step Awaited.

Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association, told BNA Jan. 10 OSHA seems to be taking a piecemeal approach and that “the problem will not be solved unless the entire issue is addressed.”

“It is obvious that OSHA does not have an answer to this problem; however, the agency does seem to recognize the problem and is seeking several alternatives to address some of the concerns,” Trippler said. “The problem with this is that these small solutions are just a band-aid approach.”

The AIHA will convene its own internal group this year to examine the issue as the OSHA effort appears stalled, he said.

A comprehensive solution might inevitably require a legislative fix, he added.

Adam Finkel, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania Law School program on regulation and a former senior OSHA official in the Clinton administration, told BNA Jan. 10 he was glad to see the renewed efforts from the agency after a similar effort during his tenure fizzled as OSHA turned its attention to its ergonomics standard.

To begin addressing exposure limits properly, OSHA should aggressively move ahead on between five and 20 chemicals which require a full standard and pick a similar number of hazardous industry processes where controls are well understood and require a more programmatic approach, Finkel said.

Finally, OSHA should then publish non-mandatory risk assessments for any remaining chemicals to at least provide workplaces with the information needed to control exposures, he added.

By Greg Hellman

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