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OSHA Finalizes Regulation on Hexavalent ChromiumPosted 5/13/2006
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium on Feb. 28, 2006. The proposed regulation was first published on Oct. 4, 2004. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) submitted formal comments about the regulation to OSHA on Jan. 3, 2005.
One of the issues ASA raised to OSHA was that the proposed rule for comment was published prior to Industry Week when trade associations, the press and shop owners are focused on their major meetings of the year and the holidays. There was little time to gather broad-based comment for the proposal.
Unfortunately, the timing of the regulation and period of time left open for comment was not conducive to heavy media attention. In addition to public comments, ASA did make the proposal available on www.TakingTheHill.com and issued a press release. The impact of the hexavalent chromium regulation on the industry has not been widely reported but repairers could see long-term ramifications from the regulation.
ASA's collision members use refinishing products in the repair of vehicles. Sanding 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 impacted by this proposed regulation. In early 2005, ASA raised four basic points with OSHA:
Highlighting the problem of this particular regulation is the lack of "in-shop" data on hexavalent chromium exposure. Determining a level for employee exposure falls short if the duty to examine and report the specific impact on an industry is not also completed. ASA does not believe that OSHA fulfilled its responsibility to determine the long-term impact on the collision industry of this regulation.
Having said this, the regulation is now in place and shop owners will be required to adhere to the law. There are timelines for implementation: "(1) For employers with 20 or more employees, all obligations of this section, except engineering controls required by paragraph (f) of this section, commence November 27, 2006.
(2) For employers with 19 or fewer employees, all obligations of this section, except engineering controls required by paragraph (f) of this section, commence May 30, 2007."
The scope of the regulation is as follows: "Where the employer has objective data demonstrating that a material containing chromium or a specific process, operation, or activity involving chromium cannot release dusts, fumes, or mists of chromium (VI) in concentrations at or above 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8 hour time weighted average under any expected conditions of use."
One metal industry study has shown already that the overall economic impact, as a result of the regulation to repair shops, could be as follows:
Year 1 $460 million
Auto body shops saw that with the spray study conducted by Yale University School of Medicine, exposure levels could impact a variety of shop staff. The degree of medical monitoring and insistence of regulated areas are alone enough to imply tremendous costs in staff time and physical plant.
Did the regulation go too far? Some interest groups have taken legal action already, arguing that the regulation did not go far enough. At this point, ASA is focused on ensuring that any specific list of requirements for shops be fair and reasonable.
Collision shops do not operate within a vacuum. With the increasing pressure to lower repair costs, these additional economic burdens brought on by the final regulation will fall almost exclusively on the small business owner and could not be passed on, in total or in part, to another party.
To review the final regulation and related materials, please go to www.TakingTheHill.com.
Controversy Arises Over OSHA's New 'Permissible Exposure Limit' of Hexavalent Chromium
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new standards to the existing standards that limit workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium. It has been determined by OSHA that the current level of hexavalent chromium that workers are exposed to puts workers at a significant health risk.
The Automotive Service Association (ASA) is concerned about the lowering of the permissible level because of the lack of data as to the potential economic impact the lower level will have on collision members. Collision shop employees use many refinishing products in their shops as well as sand, grind and weld vehicle parts. Each of these procedures presents the opportunity for hexavalent chromium to exist.
Hexavalent chromium is a metal shown to cause cancer in some workers exposed to it. Evidence demonstrates that workers exposed to hexavalent chromium are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, asthma, skin damage and destruction of nasal epithelia. More than 500,000 Americans are exposed to the cancer-causing metal. These Americans include steel workers, welders, chrome platers, and paint and pigment manufacturers.
Currently workers associated with hexavalent chromium are permitted by law to be exposed to 1 milligram of the hexavalent chromium for every 10 cubic meters of air. The new limit will only allow workers to be exposed to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Although a significant drop in level of exposure, the level is still five times higher than that originally presented by OSHA in 2004, which pales in light of that proposed by worker safety activists who called for such low levels of exposure that saw the final regulation 20 times higher.
"ASA is concerned about the requirement of regulated areas where workers would be provided personal protective equipment, washing facilities and changes of clothes. Extensive medical monitoring of workers is also required," said Bob Redding, ASA's Washington, D.C., representative. "We are troubled by the lack of data as to worker exposure in collision shops. We will need to work closely with OSHA to determine specifically what shops will be obligated to provide."
OSHA has acknowledged that the new limit will still allow between 10 and 45 deaths from lung cancer for every 1,000 workers exposed to the harmful particles. These deaths will occur over a 45-year period. OSHA went on to defend its stance by also reporting that as many as 145 deaths caused by lung cancer will be prevented due to the new exposure standards.
The final regulation can be viewed at www.TakingTheHill.com.
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