AIHce: What's Ahead for OSHA?

Steven F. Witt, director of OSHA's Directorate of Standards and Guidance, predicted a late arrival for the agencies semi-annual regulatory agenda, saying it will be released in late June or early July, rather than the usual date in May. While the agenda probably won't contain any surprises, it does contain the agency's priorities for the next few months.

Witt, addressing a session at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition (AIHce) in Atlanta, said the SBREFA process (Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act process, the first step in the rulemaking procedure) was completed for the hexavalent chromium standard on April 20. The standard has a court-imposed deadline of Oct. 4 for publication of a proposed standard, and a final rule by Jan. 16, 2006. Questions, such as "should the current draft exclude certain types of work," have yet to be settled, said Witt.

A guidance for hearing conservation for construction workers is currently in the review process, said Witt. Stakeholders had the opportunity to voice their opinions at meetings in Chicago on March 24 and 25, and another is planned for July in the Washington, D.C. area. "The meetings were helpful. They reinforced a number of critical issues that have not been resolved yet," said Witt. Those issues include:

  • Exposure monitoring: What is the most effective approach to evaluate noise exposures in construction?
  • Audiometric testing: What is the most practical approach to providing testing in construction, where much of the workforce is transient?
  • Portability of records: How to create long-term audiometric records for short-term employees? How can we decrease the difficulty of maintaining historic records, transferring audiometric test results between employers and ensuring privacy?

The SBREFA process for a standard for crystalline silica was initiated in June 2003. A draft standard was reviewed by small business representatives as part of the process. A report was completed on Dec. 19, 2003. The SBREFA panel recommendations are under evaluation, and options are being developed to proceed with a proposal, said Witt.

Issues OSHA is wrestling with for crystalline silica include:

  • Should the standard cover general industry, construction and maritime?
  • What is the feasibility of reducing the current PEL for general industry/maritime and for construction?
  • Can dust controls be specified for construction as an alternative to requiring exposure assessment and compliance with a PEL (a type of control-banding approach)?
  • How accurate are current sampling and analytical methods in detection of low concentrations of respirable quartz?
  • Whether and how to implement ancillary requirements (regulated areas, exposure assessment and hygiene facilities), particularly for construction?
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