Momentum Builds to Update PELs

Many of OSHA's PELs have not been revised since 1971 and a 1992 court decision stymied the agency's efforts to update large numbers of them via consensus rulemaking.

"People have been talking about improving the PELs (permissible exposure limits) process for years," said Frank White, vice president of Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. (ORC).

Now they may actually be able to do something about it. A coalition formed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) along with the AFL-CIO, American Chemistry Council, and ORC is gathering momentum and pressing for legislation that would provide a quicker way for OSHA to update the limits used to protect workers from hazardous chemicals.

Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., is considering legislation to address the issue and may hold hearings as early as this summer, according to White and Gayla McCluskey, president of AIHA.

The legislation would be based on a draft proposal produced by the coalition. According to White the revamped process would involve an advisory committee that would screen existing consensus limits and make recommendations as to whether existing data justify turning the consensus limits into standards. OSHA would retain final authority and the advisory committee would exclude controversial PELs from the abbreviated rulemaking process.

White said he envisions the committee having broad representation among labor, industry, and professional stakeholder groups.

OSHA appears not to be leading the charge on improving the PELs process, though the agency "has been kept informed of the effort," according to McCluskey. She added that OSHA has not taken a position on the possible legislation.

If people have been talking about PELs for so long, why is momentum building now? "After ergonomics, people are searching now for something to agree on," commented White.

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