Does PEL Rulemaking Need Stakeholder Input?

Occupational Hazards, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Does PEL Rulemaking Need Stakeholder Input?


It was standing room only at OSHA's February public meeting on the first batch of permissible exposure limits (PELs) slated for revision, as attendees commended the agency's general effort but criticized the process.

In a Jan. 24 Federal Register notice announcing the meeting, OSHA proposed 20 chemicals for the first round of PEL updates. Among the selected substances were: carbon disulfide, carbon monoxide, chloroform, dimethyl sulfate, epichlorohydrin, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen dioxide, toluene and vinyl bromide. The meeting focused on the selection criteria OSHA used in developing the list and risk assessment methodologies for the rulemaking.

In highlighting the 20 substances, OSHA considered such factors as: the number of workers exposed; use of a substance and prevailing exposure levels; severity of the resulting adverse health effects; availability of information useful in quantitative risk assessment and the quality of those data; and potential risk reduction. OSHA also incorporated "administrative considerations and professional judgment," which prompted protests from several parties.

"We know next to nothing about how OSHA selected the 20 substances," Peter Hernandez, vice president of employee relations for the American Iron and Steel Institute, told the OSHA panel.

Scott Schneider, industrial hygienist with the Center to Protect Workers' Rights, the research arm of the Building & Construction Trades Dept., AFL-CIO, said he too wanted more information on the "nitty gritty" of how the 20 substances were selected.

OSHA Director of Health Standards Adam Finkel noted that the list was not firm. "We are open to adding to and subtracting from [the list]," he said.

While all parties said they supported a revision of the PELs, many urged OSHA to involve stakeholders more actively in the selection process. In a Jan. 28 letter to the agency, Organization Resources Counselors Inc., American Petroleum Institute, Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) and Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association complained, that "stakeholder involvement to date has been minimal."

Last November, CMA suggested that OSHA create an advisory committee of labor, industry and government representatives that would consider significant risk, and economic and technological feasibility issues surrounding PELs. OSHA would select substances for revision during its priority planning process, and the committee would propose PELs based on consensus decisions. Under the plan, the update timeline for each PEL would be three to five years. …

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