OSHA: There They Go Again…

By March 2, 2006General

Veterans of the fight over OSHA’s elephantine and overreaching (and ultimately unsuccessful) ergonomic regulation will remember OSHA for its penchant for pressing ahead in the face of evidence to the contrary, or no evidence at all. Unfortunately, this is endemic to the agency, its in their DNA. As we’ve always said, when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. OSHA’s tool is regulation, and so they regulate.

Well, they’re at it again, this time with a substance with an almost unpronounceable name — hexavalent chromium, or “hex chrome” for short — but which is prevalent in such industries as aerospace, defense, metal finishing, agricultural implement manufacturing, painting and welding.

The current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for this stuff is set at 52 micrograms per cubic meter. So OSHA decides to look at this level, thinking it’s not low enough, and tries to lower it by a factor of 50, to 1 microgram per cubic meter. Industry weighs in, to tell OSHA that this would first of all be 50 times lower than most of Europe — and would cost US businesses, already trying to compete with all these countries, an extra $3 billion a year. We and the Small Business Administration also showed that a PEL of 10 would give as much protection while causing much less economic harm to small and medium manufacturers. (In this fact sheet, the SBA urges a PEL of 23!) Not like they would listen….

And indeed they didn’t. OSHA came out a few days ago with a PEL of 5 micrograms per cubic meter. Again, to put it in context, this level is lower than that of Mexico and China and India (big shocker there) and most of Europe. The proposed level of 5 would put us below that great business-friendly country of Sweden (20) and on par with its cousin, Denmark (5).

We weighed in, as did the House and Senate, but apparently to no avail. We’ve been down this road before with OSHA to many times. And again, while this substance isn’t sexy, it’s prevalent, used all the time by manufacturers who are competing with the rest of the world. We spend mightily on worker safety and understand that a safe and healthy workforce is just good business. We want to keep our workers safe and in fact we lead the way in it. So when OSHA comes over-regulating once again, we are weary.

Also makes us wonder where our friends at the ACGIH are on this. Remember them? they’re the shadowy group that quasi-regulates but that isn’t open to an input from outsiders like us who are actually doing the work. We’re betting their PEL for hex chrome was right around where OSHA ended up.

Here’s a link to the Washington Post article.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Pat Cleary says:


    While a fascinating bit of trivia, can we agree that the exposures there far exceeded even the current PEL of 52 micrograms per cubic meter?

    Thanks for commenting,

    Pat Cleary

  • Bob Higgins says:

    This will probably fall on deaf ears, however, you might have done your readers a service by informing them of the fact that hexavalent chromium is the toxin featured in the Erin Brokovich campaign.

  • Jim Rhudy says:

    NAM’s comments on OSHA hex chrome rule.

    Wayne Geyer