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November 14, 2013
OSHA launches local emphasis program for hazardous chemicals
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

In Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, OSHA is launching a local emphasis program for industries that use hazardous chemicals. Keep reading to learn more about this enforcement strategy and what it means for you.

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Under the new initiative, OSHA will conduct programmed health inspections of employers in industries that have reported releases of hazardous chemicals to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City, commented that this focus on sites known to have released EPA-monitored chemicals would “make efficient use of OSHA’s industrial hygiene resources.”

According to OSHA, industries will be selected for inspection based on chemical release data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Explorer database, which lists facilities that have released chemical quantities equal to or exceeding 100,000 pounds. Specific chemicals that could be covered under the enforcement program include ammonia, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, lead and manganese compounds, N-hexane, styrene, and sulfuric acid.

The local emphasis program is the latest in a series of OSHA initiatives directed at employee exposure to hazardous materials. In October, the agency released two online tools to help employers voluntarily reduce their workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The first tool, an annotated version of OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) tables, places OSHA’s PELs alongside newer, more protective standards from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), California OSHA, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, allowing employers to compare the values and consider relying on the stricter standards. The second tool consists of a website aimed at helping businesses identify and substitute safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals they use.

While the tools do not create new compliance requirements, OSHA strongly urged employers to utilize them because, according to OSHA Chief David Michaels, its existing standards for many chemicals are outdated, and the agency cannot update them in a timely fashion.

One substance targeted for a stricter standard is silica. In August, OSHA proposed to substantially lower the PEL for crystalline silica and to create comprehensive standards for controlling silica exposure in both general industry and construction workplaces. The proposal is currently in the comment phase; stakeholders have until January 27, 2014, to submit written comments and feedback on the proposal, and hearings are scheduled to begin on March 18, 2014.

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