Government rulemakingOSHA today announced the publication of a Request for Information (RFI) to stakeholders and others requesting recommendations on how the agency might update its permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hundreds of chemicals, many of which have exposure limits dating back to 1970. 

“Updating the PELs has been, and remains, the number one public policy issue for our members,” said American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA) President-elect Daniel H. Anna, PhD, CIH, CSP. “The publication of this RFI marks a step forward for AIHA and other stakeholders who have long pushed for this update. We will continue to do everything possible to see that the problem of outdated PELs is addressed by OSHA and the federal government.”

The RFI is scheduled to be published in the Oct. 10 Federal Register. In light of this development, a new session at the 2014 AIHA Fall Conference will provide a forum for attendees to discuss what options might be considered to update the PELs. The discussion will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 10:30–11:30 a.m. ET, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Washington, D.C. Presenter William Perry, CIH, Director of the OSHA Directorate of Standards and Guidance, will outline the type of information the agency is requesting from stakeholders.

While the RFI is only a request for information, it is but one of several recent signs that OSHA is serious about bringing the issue of outdated PELs back to the table. In May 2012, the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health recommended that the Department of Labor consider asking the president to update OSHA’s PELs by executive order. In October 2013, OSHA created a toolkit to assist employers and workers in identifying and substituting safer chemicals to use in place of more hazardous ones, and developed an Annotated Occupational Exposure Limits table that provides accurate and up-to-date chemical information to employers who want to voluntarily adopt newer, more protective workplace exposure limits for those chemicals that are covered by outdated OSHA exposure standards.

AIHA assumed a leadership role on the issue of outdated PELs by adopting its first position paper on the subject in 1998. The paper highlighted six specific statements on PELs, specifically calling for OSHA to update the existing PELs to current science and set new PELs to protect worker health. The majority of the existing PELs are based on recommendations that were made more than 30 years ago and continue to have a major impact on the industrial hygiene profession.