OSHA Issues Final Standard on Hexavalent Chromium

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium this week, reducing the acceptable levels of workplace exposure of hexavalent chromium from 52 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Hexavalent chromium is used in a number of industries, including metal fabrication for the construction industry. According to the Associated Press, an estimated 558,000 workers, from welders to steelworkers and others, are exposed to its airborne particles that have been linked to lung cancer.

The new requirement "substantially reduces the significant health risks" for employees exposed to the material, said Jonathan Snare, acting assistant secretary for OSHA.
In a conference call with reporters, Snare said the 5-microgram permissible exposure level, or PEL, "is the lowest level that is feasible both technologically and economically." He said the standard would cost industry $282 million a year to implement.

Considering the massive amount of products produced annually for commercial construction projects, what impact will this new standard have on those companies serving the industry?

"It's certainly going to help our members because hexavalent chromium is a high carcinogen," said Dan Penskie, health and safety manager for International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). "We didn't get it [the new requirement] down to 1 microgram per cubic meter, which would be perfect," he said, adding "I don't know if we will ever get it down to 1 microgram per cubic meter. I think we will always be fighting to lower all standards to protect members and their families."

Penskie said that with exposure levels being lowered, protection can be given to the association's members through engineering controls.

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