AIHA President Lick: Standard Setting Process Doesn't Work

AIHA President Hank Link tells a Congressional subcommittee that OSHA takes too long to promulgate safety and health standards.


The president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association recently complained to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce''s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) often takes too much time to promulgate health and safety standards.

"Since consensus standards were adopted in the first two years after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a relatively small number of standards have been promulgated," explained AIHA President Henry B. (Hank) Lick, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, ROH, while other standards, such as the permissible exposure limits (PELs), have not been successfully updated.

"The average time - depending on how the time of standard introduction is measured - to develop and promulgate a standard is 10 years," he added.

Lick used the confined space entry standard as an example for the subcommittee, noting that the first advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) was 1975, while the final rule was not promulgated until 1993. Similarly, the request for information on the lock-out standard was in 1977, and the final rule was issued in 1989.

Although OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should not shoulder all the blame for the standards process not working, said Lick, he noted that several other federal agencies have been more successful in setting standards. He attributed that fact in part to their success in gaining public support for their regulatory agenda. That success in turn has translated into more resources to apply to standard setting.

"In addition to not gaining public support, OSHA has not managed and supported its internal and advisory resources effectively," Lick stated. "This is due, in my opinion, to weaknesses in strategic and tactical planning and the subsequent failure to meet project goals in a timely manner."

Lick conceded in his testimony that consensus standard-setting organizations (such as ACGIH) and professional associations (such as AIHA) should be more consistent and uniform in their support of OSHA efforts despite the fact that they are sometimes in competition concerning professional areas of expertise and for members.

"These entities, together with OSHA and NIOSH, must form stronger alliances and resolve scientific opinion differences early in the standard-setting process," he added.

Regarding AIHA''s role in the standard-setting discussion, Lick stated that its members "are well aware that exposure limits and standards are a primary tool in disease prevention." The association''s position statement and white paper on permissible exposure limits were attached to the submitted testimony, and he noted that AIHA also has formed a task force composed of labor, industry, and professional association representatives to seek out an agreeable solution to PELs.

"The broken standard-setting process is impacting business and is distracting OSHA from its primary mission of protecting worker health and safety," Lick asserted. "The OSHA PELs are essentially the 1968 the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists'' TLVs [threshold limit values], and they are, for the most part, outdated and irrelevant."

While acknowledging that some perceive the ACGIH process to be flawed, he contended that if ACGIH is no longer involved in the standard-setting process, some other standard-setting body must commit to continuing the exposure-limit-setting process.

"The global economy is dynamic, but our standard-setting process is not," Lick concluded. "Congress needs to amend the OSH Act to incorporate today''s realities; businesses must support the consensus standard-setting process with their best talent and with financial resources; and health and safety professionals and their associations must work together and with consensus standard-setting organizations."

As a former member of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), Lick advised OSHA on the development of standards and rules on recordkeeping, ergonomics, and safety and health programs.

"In 1998, after four years of no progress in these areas, I requested that NACOSH conduct a study to determine the reasons why the OSHA standard-setting process is so difficult," he said. Lick then served as a principal author of the resulting report, which included the following key recommendations for improving the standards development process in line with the intent of the Occupational Safety and Health Act:

  • Develop constituencies earlier in the process.
  • Develop standards based on national hazard trends.
  • Develop a regulatory handbook to be used as a reference aid for OSHA personnel.
  • Monitor and participate in the consensus standard-making process.
  • Assist advisory committees.

Visit the AIHA Web site at in the scrolling News and Information section) for a complete copy of the testimony as well as AIHA''s White Paper on Permissible Exposure Limits and related information.

(For additional information about testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce''s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, see the related article on, "Congressman Vows to Change OSHA Rulemaking".

by Sandy Smith

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