Wednesday, March 7, 2012

OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda

Towards the end of 2011, OSHA published its regulatory agenda for the upcoming year. Two items are especially relevant to gas detection in healthcare, food processing and other industries: The revision of the HazCom standard and the revision of the OSHA Permissible exposure limits (PELs).

The Hazard Communication standard applies to all companies using chemicals and requires appropriate material safety data sheets (MSDSs), labels, employee training etc. One problem facing the HazCom Standard is that different government agencies apply different standards and across the world the standards differ significantly from country to country, meaning that different labels and MSDSs are needed from one location to the next. The United Nations has developed a global harmonization standard (GHS) that can be used to classify chemicals according to their properties. OSHA is working towards updating the HazCom standard to be compliant with the GHS.

Most of the current OSHA PELs were adopted under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) from the 1968 ACGIH TLV values, since they were already federally recognized consensus standards. With a few exceptions, the majority of the PELs today are unchanged since they were first adopted even though a considerable amount of chemical safety data has been collected since then and the ACGIH TLVs have been regularly updated. In 1989 OSHA attempted a broad updating of the PELs, introducing 164 new PELs and lowering 212 existing ones. However, these changes were subsequently overturned by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1992, on the grounds that OSHA failed to show the health benefits versus the cost of implementation for each individual compound, as required under the OSH Act. The PELs thus reverted back to their prior values. OSHA is again looking at revising the PELs, but the legal framework remains to be seen.

The ChemDAQ blog will be following both of these themes over time and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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