The end of the year always offers a time to reflect on events of the past 12 months and to look forward to the challenges and opportunities of the upcoming year. Year-end also is a time filled with hope, wishes and dreams for a better and more prosperous New Year.
One thing many U.S. plating shops might be wishing for is some sanity from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the hexavalent chromium personal exposure limit (PEL). As many of you who have followed these developments in the pages of Products Finishing and elsewhere already know, the current permissible PEL is 52 µg/m3 as an eight-hour, time-weighted average. That’s on a par with most of the other industrialized countries of the world.
OSHA wants to reduce the exposure limit to 1 µg/m3—by far the strictest PEL in the world and a level that would make it extremely difficult if not impossible to economically perform hex chrome plating in the United States. To make matters worse, the proposed regulation specifies an “action level” of 0.5 ug/m3. Finishers who fail to meet the action level would be required to make costly investments in medical monitoring, respiratory protection, separate change-rooms, protective clothing and other areas.
The finishing industry is not taking this proposed change lying down. Industry representatives have done a good job laying out the arguments against OSHA’s draconian proposal, and have been busy lobbying lawmakers and others in Washington who can impact the outcome of the current debate.
The latest effort comes in the form of letters from members of Congress to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Signed by many members of both houses, the letters were timed to coincide with OMB’s receipt of the rule for review and discussion with OSHA and other agencies.
The letters acknowledge the need to protect worker safety but question the science underlying the proposed rule change. They also call into question OSHA’s analysis of the economic impact the rule would have, as well as the agency’s proposed technologies to enable platers to comply with the new exposure limits.
We shouldn’t have long to wait to find out whether or not OSHA has been impacted by the industry’s lobbying efforts; the agency is scheduled to finalize the rule in January. OSHA’s between the proverbial rock and hard place—if limits are set too low, the agency will be sued by the finishing industry, and if they’re too high, environmentalists will sue it. So the battle is expected to continue in the courts, but by the end of next month we’ll at least know how low OSHA intends to try to go.
In the meantime, we have the Holidays, so my advice is to take some time to sit back, relax a bit and enjoy a happy and safe season with your loved ones.
See you next year.