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Sidestepping PELs

October 27, 2014

OSHA has a problem with outdated permissible exposure limits. But what’s the solution?

In the agency’s new push to reduce chemical hazard-related illnesses, it is seeking stakeholder comments on how to best manage exposures.

A 1992 court ruling barred OSHA from easily updating its PELs; every new or updated PEL must go through the regular, lengthy rulemaking process. Agency administrator David Michaels openly admits it would take “centuries” to address all the chemicals posing a hazard to workers.

“There have got to be better ways to take this issue on,” Michaels said during an Oct. 9 announcement seeking stakeholder input. “That’s really what this initiative is about.”

In its Request for Information, OSHA is asking stakeholders about other approaches that do not involve PELs, such as hazard or control banding.

This approach – used in some countries – would “band” together chemicals with similar characteristics. The chemical would determine which band, and the band would determine which control measures employers would implement.

William Perry, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Standards and Guidance, concedes that the agency likely would not issue a standard listing specific chemicals and specific bands. However, some regulatory options could involve banding.

“Maybe we need a framework that people would implement in their workplaces to get all those chemicals we don’t have PELs for,” he said Oct. 21 during the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s fall conference in Washington.

Is this a viable approach for dealing with the countless unregulated chemicals in today’s workplaces? OSHA aims to found out, and you have until April 8 to give them your opinion.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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