OSHA chief: Workplace chemical rules 'dangerously out of date'

OSHA warns that decades-old hazardous chemical rules don't sufficiently protect workers even when employers follow the law.
Posted By Kristen Butler   |   Updated Oct. 24, 2013 at 3:53 PM
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(UPI) -- Federal regulations on what hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to are decades old, and workers could be at risk even if their employers are complying with the law, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Thursday.

Federal rules "are dangerously out of date, dating from the 1970s or even earlier, and do not adequately protect workers,” said OSHA head David Michaels.

Michaels cited a 2012 Government Accountability Office report that concluded that the OSHA “faces a number of challenges in setting these standards promptly and efficiently.”

“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," Michaels said. "We recognize this and are developing new ways to approach the problem of workplace exposure to hazardous substances."

In the meantime, the agency is recommending companies voluntarily adopt more stringent standards, like the chemical safety limits used in California. The agency has provided those guidelines along with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Saying that it could take years for OSHA to update its rules, Michaels unveiled new online tools for helping companies switch from hazardous chemicals to safer substitutes.

Michaels noted that although the agency is encouraging businesses to adopt higher safety standards, OSHA will not use the other standards to levy fines or penalties.

“These really are informational,” he said. “We’re trying to get information out.”

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