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OSHA Addresses PELs in Regulatory Agenda

OSHA's Fall 2011 semi-annual regulatory agenda, which the agency released in early 2012, includes a "Review/Lookback of OSHA Chemical Standards" to begin to address the agency's permissible exposure limits (PELs), which most safety stakeholders consider woefully out of date.

PELs are the consensus-based limits that allot how long an individual can be exposed to a substance without experiencing harmful effects. Decades have passed since the agency's PELs were created – most in 1971 – and the limits have not been updated. This new item on the agenda indicates that OSHA is formulating a Request for Information (RFI), expected in August, and is "seeking input from the public to help the Agency identify effective ways to address occupational exposure to chemicals."

"There is widespread agreement among industry, labor, and professional occupational safety and health organizations that OSHA's PELs are outdated and need revising in order to take into account newer scientific data that indicates that significant occupational health risks exist at levels below OSHA's current PELs," states the rulemaking action, which is listed in the prerule stage on the agenda.

OSHA held a stakeholder meeting in June 2010 to discuss PELs, and at the 2010 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels said the agency was working on new, creative ways to address outdated PELs.

Hazcom Standard Edging Closer

The Hazard Communication Standard remains close to becoming a final rule. While the agenda indicates a February final action for the standard, which would align the current hazcom standard with the Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication System (GHS), the rule is still with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OSHA sent the rule to OMB in October, with the review due to be complete in January. OMB, however, recently extended its review period for the hazcom standard.

OMB delays have long held up the proposed crystalline silica standard. OSHA submitted the rule for review in February 2011, and the rule has been delayed ever since. Safety stakeholders wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to urge OMB to complete its review. The regulatory agenda claims a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking is expected in February 2012 for this standard.

The agency's proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) remains on the agenda in the proposed rule stage, with the intent to initiative a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act (SBREFA) review early in the year. Such a program would require employers to "find and fix" hazards in the workplace and has been a top priority for Michaels. OSHA held stakeholder meetings on I2P2 in June 2010 and recently released a white paper making a case for an I2P2 standard.

View the full Fall 2011 semi-annual regulatory agenda here.

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