Thirteen years after it first proffered, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board has formally published revisions to California’s standards on lead in both the construction and general industry standards. The proposal is already controversial.
The revisions – embraced by labor and dreaded by many employers – have started the clock on the 45-day comment period. It ends on April 20th with a public hearing before the Board in Sacramento.
Stakeholders will need all that time to digest the massive revisions to Construction Safety Orders §1532.1 and General Industry Safety Orders §§ 5155 and 5198, which, including appendices, incorporate some 165 pages of additions, strikethroughs, and retained language. The Board’s Initial Statement of Reasons, which explains the proposal and its justification, runs 104 pages.
“The proposed amendments are needed to adequately protect employees who have occupational exposure to lead,” the Board reasons. Current requirements are more than 40 years old, and “More recent evidence demonstrates that even at exposure levels well below those currently allowed by the existing regulations, harmful health effects can occur.”
Harmful effects include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, nervous system and neurobehavioral effects, and impaired kidney function. Lead can also create learning and behavioral issues in children if taken home.
The updated standards are intended “to be more consistent with existing scientific knowledge,” the Board says. The intent is to ensure that employees’ blood lead levels stay below ten micrograms per deciliter.
Currently, the permissible exposure limit for lead is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/M3), as an eight-hour time-weighted average, with an action level of 30 µg/M3.
The proposal lowers the PEL to 10 µg/M3, with an action level of 2 µg/M3 for construction and general industry.
Revisions to §5155, the airborne contaminants standard, would lower the PEL for lead (metallic) and inorganic compounds, dust, and fume, from 0.05 mg/m3 to 0.01. It would also reduce the PEL for lead chromate from 0.02 mg/m3 to 0.01.
Cal/OSHA, which derived much of the proposal from recommendations by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Occupational Health Branch, says the research indicates that employees suffer harmful health effects at much lower levels than the current standards, which track Fed-OSHA regulations from 1978.
The state agency says the benefits of the regulatory revisions – avoided costs from employee mortality and shortened life expectancy – would amount to about $28 million in the first year of implementation and up to $1.3 billion by year 45. The cost to a typical business, it estimates, would be $10,647 in the first year and $8,514 in subsequent years.
“It doesn’t do anything to protect employees,” opines one construction safety professional, “The current standard already requires [personal protective equipment], training, etc. All the changes just push [construction] employers into medical surveillance and exposure monitoring” in some of the trigger task categories.
Cal/OSHA Reporter Premium edition will have more details later this week.