Is Now the Time?
AIHA Weighs Another Attempt at Changing OSHA
BY ED RUTKOWSKI
Change at OSHA has rarely, if ever, seemed as likely as it does today. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Acting Assistant Secretary for
OSHA Jordan Barab have initiated
activity on a number of issues that
had languished at the agency for
years. And David Michaels, Presi-
dent Obama’s choice to lead OSHA,
has been openly critical of the
agency, raising hopes that his con-
firmation would lead to reform.
Has the time finally come to fix the
broken OSHA PEL process? Could a solution to the problems that have kept most
PELs at or near levels established in the
1960s be within reach?
Or should change at OSHA run a different course? Have the rise of control
banding, the European Union’s REACH
regulation, the increasing number of
countries developing their own OELs, and
broader proposed federal policy initiatives to manage chemicals diminished the
need to update PELs? Do the recent
changes throughout government signal
not that conditions are ripe for updating
PELs but that OSHA should abandon
standards-setting and focus its limited resources on something else?
These questions will be front and center at an as-yet unscheduled meeting of
organizations dedicated to occupational
health and safety. The intent of the meeting, which AIHA hopes to hold before the
end of the year, is to explore whether
OEHS stakeholders can reach consensus
on an approach to change at OSHA.
AIHA has been down this road before. In
2002, AIHA convened a meeting of industry, labor, and professional organizations to
discuss possible solutions to what seemed
to be a permanently dormant process for
setting PELs. Attendees at the meeting ran
the gamut of OEHS stakeholder organizations, including labor unions, industry organizations, and non-profit associations.
The meeting led to the formation of a
task force that lasted for three years and
garnered support from a member of Congress, who promised to introduce legislation if the group could achieve consensus.
Legislation outlining a procedure for updating and expanding PELs was drafted,
but ultimately, no consensus could be
reached and the task force disbanded.
While the task force did not achieve
its goal of initiating change at the fed-
eral level, its process was adopted by the
California Division of Occupational
Safety and Health, which is reviewing
and updating existing state PELs based
on more recent health-based data.
A Global Concern
AIHA has a longstanding commitment to
updating PELs. Annual surveys have repeatedly shown that AIHA members consider updating PELs to be the association’s
top priority in public policy. In May 2009,
the AIHA Board of Directors reiterated
its commitment to updating PELs. But
the rapid pace of change and uncertainty
about the priorities of OEHS stakeholders require AIHA to be open to different