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LEGAL UPDATE: OSHA accepting comments on proposed changes for regulations on chemical management and PELs

By: Cressinda D. Schlag

On Oct. 9, 2014, OSHA published a Request for Information (RFI) on Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) in the Federal Register. OSHA’s RFI requests that stakeholders, including businesses and local government entities, comment on the potential impact of an alternative approach to managing chemicals in the work environment through the modification of the current PEL process.

OSHA has set enforceable PELs, or regulatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance allowed in the air, for over 500 chemicals. These PELs are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment and construction industry. Despite multiple proposals from both OSHA and industry groups seeking to change or enhance specific PELs over the past decade, 95% of the PELs have been in existence without change since 1971. OSHA’s limited ability to modify or enhance PELs within the current regulatory framework is the administration’s primary incentive for changing current regulations on chemical management and PEL regulations.

OSHA’s RFI raises several potential approaches to chemical management, which include: a tiered approach, hazard banding, task-based approach and informed substitution. Any of the proposed approaches would drastically streamline OSHA’s existing regulatory framework for PELs by allowing OSHA to regulate groups of chemicals or types of chemical exposures in the same manner, without identifying or establishing exposure limits for each individual chemical.

For example, if OSHA adopted the proposed “control banding” approach, all chemicals with similar qualities would be grouped and regulated based on the group’s qualities instead of a single chemical’s qualities. OSHA would therefore avoid having to develop PELs for every single chemical.

Although OSHA’s RFI has no impact on OSHA’s current enforcement policies, information obtained during the RFI could significantly impact the administration’s future approach to chemical regulation and in turn could severely affect employers with chemical exposures. Employers should therefore consider reviewing and commenting on OSHA’s RFI.

Comments on OSHA’s proposal are not due until Wednesday, April 8, 2015 or 180 days after the RFI’s Oct. 10 publication in the Federal Register. You can access OSHA’s RFI and electronic submission page at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/10/10/2014-24009/chemical-management-and-permissible-exposure-limits-pels

For more information about any of OSHA’s proposed approaches or to obtain assistance in writing a formal comment, please contact any member of the Burns White Occupational Safety and Health team.