Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Congress Eyes Law to Update PELs. (OSHA)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Congress Eyes Law to Update PELs. (OSHA)

Article excerpt

Can a consensus be reached to update OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs) for toxic chemicals? That was the question the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections addressed at a July 16 hearing that brought together labor and industry stakeholders.

The proposal under consideration calls for Congress to approve legislation giving OSHA the authority to do "generic rulemaking" so that hundreds of PELs can be updated and new PELs established for unregulated toxic substances. Any procedure probably would preserve OSHA's final responsibility for setting new standards through a rulemaking process.

In his opening statement, Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., who chairs the subcommittee, reiterated his support for developing "a widespread consensus to update PELs." Before moving forward with the initiative, however, he and other lawmakers on the subcommittee want to be sure that stakeholders can overcome their long-standing differences and reach consensus on the process and the substance of a sweeping PELs update.

The hearing did not settle this question, but there appears to be momentum among some stakeholders--professional organizations, labor and industry--to reach agreement. There were also signs that the concerns of small businesses may be a major stumbling block to the initiative.

"The approach we're looking at now is coming to agreement by focusing on the easier PELs," explained Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO's director of occupational safety and health. She said the union would be willing to defer action on some of the more controversial PELs and accept somewhat higher limits "to reach real agreement on some real hazards that affect real workers."

There is widespread agreement among stakeholders that OSHA has been ineffective at updating existing and establishing new PELs. Most of OSHA's PELs are based on research and consensus standards that are 30 to 50 years old, Seminario said. …

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