Proposed OSHA Chromium Regulation Could Impact Collision ShopsPosted 2/10/2005
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
In October 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a regulation for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium (CrVI). The proposal contained three separate standards covering exposure to CrVI in general industry, construction and shipyards.
John Henshaw, OSHA administrator, commented, "The risks involved in the occupational use of hexavalent chromium can be serious and potentially life threatening. This proposed rule is both economically and technologically feasible, and will substantially reduce the risk to workers potentially exposed to hexavalent chromium."
According to OSHA staffers, OSHA plans to lower its permissible exposure limit for CrVI and all CrVI compounds in construction, shipyards and general industry from 52 to one microgram of CrVI per cubic meter of air as an eight-hour, time-weighted average. The proposed regulation also includes provisions for employee protection such as preferred methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping. (See OSHA Chart on page 9.)
The Automotive Service Association submitted comments on the CrVI proposed regulation. ASA's collision members use refinishing products in the repair of vehicles. Sanding of some vehicle parts, grinding and limited welding are also possibilities in the repair process. All of these activities, in the operation of a repair facility, could be influenced by this proposed regulation.
Although ASA recognizes the importance of worker education and safety, the regulation has the potential to place an undue burden on independent repairers. The dramatic move from 52 to one microgram of CrVI without an exhaustive review of how this impacts a specific industry could produce unknown negative consequences.
In general, OSHA did not evaluate to any degree the economic impact this proposed regulation could have on autobody repairers. General economic analyses fall woefully short of what is necessary to determine the long-term effect on a particular industry. If the regulation is finalized in its current form, the costs of training personnel, purchasing, installing, operating and maintaining equipment could be extensive. This does not include recordkeeping burdens or the possibility of having to physically create new work areas within the physical plant of these small businesses.
Collision repairers have taken a leadership role in establishing measures that ensure technical staffers have the most up-to-date repair and safety information available. They have done this by starting a voluntary training organization, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR). ASA has also initiated the founding of the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), which encourages best management practices and workplace safety. Despite these measures, OSHA is determined to ignore contemporary repairer practices and opt for a mandatory regulatory approach that does not take into consideration what practices are now in place.
The collision industry is comprised of approximately 35,000 businesses of varying size. As with most small, business-based industries, operational practices deviate as to the equipment used in the facility, training of employees and the physical plant where the repair is conducted.
A sufficient amount of time should have been provided to affected industries to review available technologies and their economic impact on our businesses if their purchase is required by this proposed regulation.
ASA asked OSHA to re-evaluate the potential economic burdens for collision repairers if this proposed regulation were to move forward in its current form. What is not entirely clear in the economic impact analysis of the proposal is whether the agency considered the cost of new equipment, cost of physical plant alterations/additions, cost of additional technical training and the cost of additional staff hours to comply with the proposed regulation (for example, recordkeeping and medical monitoring).
The question of the availability of equipment necessary to meet these new proposed exposure limits has also been raised by shop owners. With the tremendous pressure from the insurance industry to lower repair costs, these additional economic burdens brought on by the proposed regulation will fall almost exclusively on the small business owner and could not be passed on, in total or in part, to another party.
Although the official comment period for the proposed regulation has closed, the agency plans to hold hearings in February. This proposed regulation has not received a great deal of attention in the collision industry but the proposal is vague enough that the potential economic burden on repairers may be extreme.
A link to the OSHA proposed regulation can be found on ASA's legislative Web site, www.TakingTheHill.com. Updates on the regulation will be available as they occur on the ASA Web site.
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