Appearing together at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce) in Denver on Wednesday, OSHA chief David Michaels, PhD, MPH, and NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, found common ground on many issues, including the need to update OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), reports the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Melissa Hurley.

Discussing his agency’s efforts to ensure relevance and quality of research, Howard said NIOSH science should provide a sound basis for OSHA regulations. “It’s important for us to generate the science that can inform good policy,” Howard said.

That’s the way framers of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act envisioned the working relationship, but the partnership has failed to live up to its promise in the past 40 years.

Michaels said that OSHA relies on NIOSH for information about emerging workplace hazards and that he intends to try to eliminate the duplication of risk assessments at the agencies.

Both Michaels and Howard expressed support for the formation of a federal “clearinghouse” for risk assessments that would house all studies of workplace risks conducted by various agencies in one federal entity.

Michaels’ support for updating OSHA PELs, hundreds based on 1950s-era science, drew applause from the attendance.

“OSHA has not taken leadership on this issue, and we need to,” Michaels said. OSHA recently named an independent task force to study options for updating PELs. Howard indicated that NIOSH would be willing to help OSHA decide which PELs are most in need of updating.

Michaels said that requiring companies to institute injury and illness prevention programs is a more pressing issue than PELs. “We believe it should be required for employers to assess and abate hazards” in their workplaces, Michaels said.

Throughout the hour-long session, Michaels cited several times the need for Congress to increase OSHA penalties for companies that willfully violate safety rules. The max fine that OSHA can impose on a company is $70,000, even in cases that result in worker deaths.