OSHA calls for Ideas on Reducing Exposure to Hazardous Materials

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is calling on employers to provide ideas for preventing work-related illness due to exposure to hazardous materials.

David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, said the administration’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) have long been the cornerstone of managing worker exposure to hazardous chemicals.

PELs are regulatory limits on the concentration of a substance that is allowed in the air. Michaels says, “They are intended to protect workers against the health effects of overexposure to hazardous substances.”

However, while thousands of chemicals are used every day in American workplaces, OSHA has established exposure limits for fewer than 500, many of which, Michaels says, are now out of date. He adds, OSHA has since 1971 “successfully established or updated PELs for only about 30 chemicals. We have issued only one new exposure limit since the year 2000.”

He says, “OSHA is seeking more efficient, effective ways to protect workers and is calling for new ideas, new perspectives, and practical solutions.”

OSHA’s first step in this regard is the publication of a Request for Information in the Federal Register. It is asking stakeholders to help it identify the best approaches to managing chemical hazards and strategies for updating our permissible exposure limits.

Michaels says, “We are particularly interested in ideas about possible streamlined approaches for risk assessment and feasibility analyses, and alternative approaches for managing chemical exposures. Among the approaches we ask about are control banding, task-based approaches, and informed substitution.”

He adds, “This country is respected and renowned around the world for innovation. We have an opportunity over the next six months to show what we can do when we put our best minds to the worthy goal of protecting our economy’s most valuable asset: the lives of our workers.”

OSHA is seeking comments on managing exposure to hazardous materials by April 8, 2015.

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