OSHA Says Rules Are Dangerously Out of Date
Federal limits on the amount of hazardous chemicals that workers can be exposed to are decades out of date, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says, and workers across the country could be at risk even if their employers are following the rules. David Michaels said that it has become nearly impossible for the agency to update its chemical safety regulations, so it is urging companies to take action on their own. The agency's rules on what workers can be exposed to "are dangerously out of date, dating from the 1970s or even earlier, and do not adequately protect workers," he told reporters.
"The complexity of OSHA's current rulemaking process makes it extremely difficult for us to update our chemical safety standards and issue new standards in a reasonable period of time. We recognize this and are developing new ways to approach the problem of workplace exposure to hazardous substances," he added. Michaels cited a 2012 Government Accountability Office report that concluded that OSHA "faces a number of challenges in setting these standards promptly and efficiently."
The report found that "increased procedural requirements, shifting priorities and a rigorous standard of judicial review" were some of the hurdles facing OSHA's chemical safety efforts, and reported that it takes an average of more than seven years for it to develop and finalize exposure limits on each of the chemicals it regulates.
Because it would take years for the agency to update its rules, Michaels on Thursday unveiled new online tools to encourage companies to substitute safer chemicals for hazardous ones. The agency is also providing a guide to chemical safety limits used in California, which has more stringent chemical laws than the nation as a whole, as well as recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and a private nonprofit group.