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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: Talking about developmental hazards

April 5, 2010
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I asked people who read my December 2009 column to provide feedback on developmental health. I’ll summarize the feedback, but first examine Figure 1 (proposed label for lead) that was posted in the December article (note: yellow highlights are mine and do not appear in OSHA’s proposed rules). What comes to mind when you examine Figure 1 (below)?

Figure 1 Clip OSHA 9/09 Proposed Hazcom Rule Sign for Lead (page 50544)

Lead toxicity — historic poem

Hence gout and stone afflict the human race;
Hence lazy jaundice with her saffron face;
Palsy, with shaking head and tott'ring knees.
And bloated dropsy, the staunch sot's disease;
Consumption, pale, with keen but hollow eye,
And sharpened feature, shew'd that death was nigh.
The feeble offspring curse their crazy sires, And, tainted from his birth, the youth expires.

(Description of lead poisoning by an anonymous Roman hermit, Translated by Humelbergius Secundus, 1829)

Source: http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/perspect/ lead.htm

UAW v. Johnson Controls

As the poem shows, concern about lead toxicity and effect on newborn children has been known since Roman times.

In March 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in UAW v. Johnson Controls that these “fetal protection policies” were invalid because they were a form of sex discrimination. The rationale: decisions in developmental health matters are left to parents, not employers. The court also provided another opinion, that parents be “fully informed of risks” so that they may make decisions.

Lead standard

You may be surprised to learn that there are no specifications for a pregnant employee in OSHA’s lead standards. OSHA requires removal of employees from lead exposure when the employee’s blood lead level (BLL) is at or above 60 ug/100g of whole blood. OSHA recommends (information in Appendix C medical surveillance guidelines) that women who are pregnant limit their BLL to less than 30 ug/100g of whole blood.

NOSHA

Is it a best practice to conform to OSHA’s BLL recommendation when an employee is pregnant, as well as inform employees of the level? I say, “zip, nada, NOSHA.” You have not met your due diligence to fully inform employees of the risk to their unborn child by abiding by OSHA recommendations.

OSHA’s suggested BLL for employees that may be pregnant is based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations from 1978. In 1991, the CDC recommended that the BLL of pregnant women not exceed 10 ug/dL (note: ug/100g = ug/dL) of whole blood, otherwise they are at risk of delivering a child with an elevated BLL that may increase the child’s risk of having congnitive deficits. In 2005, the CDC issued recommendations that even 10 ug/dL may be too high.

How much information has OSHA given us on this topic since 2000?

To find out, visit OSHA’s webpage on “Reproductive Hazards, Hazards Recognition” at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/reproductivehazards/ recognition.html. With the exception of one citation about lead toxicity in 2007, the most recent information is more than a decade old (as of March 1, 2010). OSHA is frozen in time on this topic, and the agency is not a player in developmental health hazards.

Aligned with explosives

Figure 1 is OSHA’s attempt to align the hazard communication standard with the globally harmonized system of classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS). GHS is heavily influenced by European views and GHS is complementary to E.U. REACH legislation in 2007 that considers that chemicals are harmful until proven safe. GHS and REACH treat carcinogens, mutagens, and toxic to reproduction (CMR) chemicals with the highest concern. Developmental toxicants, such as lead, are a category within toxic to reproduction.

How high of a concern are CMRs? Only CMRs and explosives carry the GHS precautionary statements:
  • P201 – Obtain special instructions before use.
  • P202 – Do not handle until all safety precautions have been read and understood.
To be compliant with GHS, a safety data sheet (SDS) that contains lead must contain the P201 and P202 statements. Other precautionary statements that must appear on a SDS that contains lead are: P308 + P313 “If exposed or concerned, get medical advice/attention;” P405 “Store locked up;” and, new scientific findings may require P263 “Avoid contact during pregnant/while nursing.”

Precautions?

These are serious precautionary statements that reflect a very high concern under GHS. EHS pros may need help on what special instructions may be or what all safety precautions are. We’re talking about lead now, but these statements will be applicable for all developmental toxicants.

If OSHA is not a player in developmental health hazards, where do EHS pros go to get specifications or information on this topic? That is the key feedback I got from people who read the December 2009 article.

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