Inside OSHA

July 1, 2022

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Seeking to ramp up OSHA enforcement, House appropriators have approved a fiscal year 2023 spending bill for the Labor Department that would raise the agency’s budget by $100 million from current levels, exceeding the White House’s request by over $10 million and turning focus to the Senate, which has yet to begin its appropriations process for the coming year.

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California lawmakers continue to advance a bill that would strengthen California OSHA’s (Cal/OSHA) worker-safety standards for heat and wildfire smoke despite opposition from industry and business groups, though proponents have recently softened the measure to delay its deadline for the agency to propose new limits by about a year.

OSHA is floating a wide range of ways to tighten its decades-old lead exposure standards, including stricter medical removal requirements or even strengthening the permissible exposure limit (PEL) that forms the basis for many of the rule’s provisions, and is also asking stakeholders to weigh in on using state-level proposals in California and Washington as models.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), ranking member on the Senate’s environment committee, used a June 22 hearing to warn EPA’s chemicals chief that her office is “drifting” into territory better regulated by OSHA, arguing that it should stay away from addressing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other worker protection measures.

OSHA intends to issue its long-term healthcare industry standard for preventing COVID-19 infections in September, according to the agency’s newly updated unified agenda of future regulatory actions, while other key rulemakings are being delayed by months or more from their previously announced targets.

Environmentalists are pushing EPA to tighten its new draft risk assessment of formaldehyde by setting a cancer estimate based at least in part on the ubiquitous chemical’s links to leukemia, rejecting agency arguments that while such a link exists, the studies establishing it are too uncertain to use in an Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) review.

California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) has released a draft long-term COVID-19 rule that is already drawing employer concerns for its stricter definition of “close contact,” but the same stakeholders are welcoming plans to end the controversial “exclusion pay” requirement that mandates compensation for workers removed from their duties under the standard.

Industry groups are calling for EPA to rework its draft formaldehyde risk assessment to address what they say is a long list of scientific faults, ranging from the agency’s handling of a controversial workplace-exposure study to a failure to “harmonize” its approach to evaluating the chemical’s cancer risks with 2005 guidelines.

OSHA’s long-delayed call for public input on possible updates to the decades-old lead exposure standard has cleared White House review, teeing up the first step of a rulemaking process the agency says will at least aim to tighten the blood lead levels (BLLs) that trigger medical removal of workers but could be much broader.

EPA plans to “learn from” OSHA’s enforcement of workplace chemical-exposure limits as it prepares for the demands of enforcing new TSCA risk management rules, a spokesperson says, while an industry attorney sees a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other partnership between the two agencies as an option to aid those efforts.

 

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