PELs Update Effort Attracts Industry Attention

Stakeholders are close to agreement on a sweeping update of OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs), according to Gayla McCluskey, the immediate past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association and a key leader of the effort.

"We've been working in high gear on this for about a year," she commented. "By Washington standards, that's a short time period, and we're 90 percent there."

The proposal has lately generated so many interested people from industry trade groups who want to see where it's going, that McCluskey, who has helped lead the charge to update PELs, believes future meetings will have to be limited in size.

"At our last meeting 40 people showed up, and we can't work well with that many people, so we'll probably cut back to the original core group," she said. The group has been meeting about once a month since last summer.

While McCluskey is hopeful an agreement is in sight, she cautioned that in reaching consensus the final steps are always the most difficult.

Labor, industry and professional groups agree that OSHA's PELs are badly out of date; some of them are over 30 years old. Last July, Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, said he would support legislation to address PELs if stakeholders agreed on the process and substance of a sweeping PELs update.

Three issues must be overcome to reach consensus, according to McCluskey and other members of the core group:

  • The number of PELs to be updated;
  • The level of scientific evidence, economic impact, and technical feasibility that must be reached to determine a new PEL;
  • Who appoints the advisory committee that will oversee the update effort.

Participants have given varying accounts of how many PELs might be addressed.

"While labor and big business originally floated the idea of updating 40, we think 30 is a good number, one that won't overwhelm small business," commented Andrew Langer, manager of regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Business.

Peter Eide, director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been attending many of the stakeholder meetings. He put it this way: "I think the bottom line is how much are we chewing on here, and who will be doing the chewing."

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