Regulation of exposure to chemicals in the United States has become a topic of speculation.1 Certainly, this column has contributed to thecacophony. On March 20, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally released the long-in-the-making revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).
The fundamental problem
It’s expensive to produce valid and accepted permissible exposure limits (PELs) for at least two reasons. First, at least four years are needed to organize, complete, and peer-review valid environmental, safety, and heath studies upon which the limits are based. Second, the data must be reviewed and published in an unbiased manner.
It’s always the same problem: money! OSHA has a small budget. The agency has not, cannot, and will not be able to afford to produce the basketful of exposure limits needed by industry to protect workers who use chemicals.
Published reports say that OSHA considered the following approaches to provide protection for workers:
• Abandoning exposure limits as a basis for managing exposure and replacing them with a suite of traditional tools used by professional industrial hygienists, including chemical assessment exposure tools, interviews of workers, wipe sampling to evaluate exposure via skin contact and ingestion, and observation and evaluation of existing controls.
• Using OSHA’s General Duty Clause (GDC) to protect workers from a set of chemicals for which the PELs are especially inadequate or even non-existent. This is an OSHA-equivalent of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO law, which is unspecific about what constitutes a violation and what is considered evidence.
• Adopting all American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH)2 exposure limits (TLVs), making them “the” OSHA exposure limits.
• For federal projects, mandating use of any lowest published exposure limits (the illegal Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health [FACOSH] proposal).
• Allowing the then-current inertia to be the status quo because the intensity of disagreement inhibited convergence (i.e., no change in policy).
OSHA chose to require suppliers of chemicals to report the current ACGIH exposure limit on their Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)3 also notes “any other exposure limit used or recommended by the chemical manufacturer, importer, or employer may be used in preparing the safety data sheet.”
These non-consensus TLVs don’t have any force of law. They are just provided by the manufacturer as information. That action alone is mandatory.
An injured worker would find it difficult to make a legal case that the ACGIH was either negligent or biased in promulgating their TLV. This author believes this is a diminution of the opportunity for an injured worker to make a legal case that a corporate exposure limit (CEL) reported on a SDS was produced with negligence or bias.
It is hard to argue that, from the standpoint of financial value, this decision is not a big win for OSHA. Someone else (the ACGIH) does and pays for4 the work. And OSHA gets to use the results to inform workers and employers of the character of hazards imposed by specific chemicals.
It is easy to argue that in adopting this course of action, OSHA has ceded responsibility to no one. The ACGIH does not (and should not) consider their organization responsible for informing all workers of hazards. That is OSHA’s responsibility. The ACGIH doesn’t expend the resources to issue an exposure limit unless the volume used and hazard level justifies their work, and they think enough patrons will purchase their report to justify its cost of production.
Yet, what if the ACGIH doesn’t issue an exposure limit? A supplier isn’t required to provide an exposure limit if they feel the available data doesn’t support its issuance.
And does this decision by OSHA improve transfer of information to employers and workers? This author believes it does not. Certainly, it doesn’t create any new information.
Clearing the air
Clean air has different meaning when you move outside a controlled environment.
The next column will address how policies of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in the Los Angeles basin has affected cleaning operations and some options for alternative cleaning solvents that have a lower impact on air quality.
1. Several groups discussed the range of options that OSHA is considering during November 6-10, 2010, at the 138th American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and the National Worker Health and Safety Summit, sponsored by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) section of APHA.
2. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) is a professional association of industrial and governmental hygienists and practitioners of related professions.
3. The NPRM can be downloaded from http://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/GHSfinal-rule.pdf.
4. The ACGIH produces income by selling the documentation supporting their TLV values, and compilations of the values.
John Durkee is the author of Management of Industrial Cleaning Technology and Processes (Elsevier). In 2012, Elsevier will publish The Science and Technology of Solvent Cleaning. Durkee is an independent consultant specializing in metal and critical cleaning. Contact:: email@example.com.
This article was published in the July/August 2012 issue of Controlled Environments magazine, pp. 32-33.