Safety and OSHA News

A model for hazardous chemical management?

A new report recommends OSHA look to the European Union (EU) for a system to manage workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The EU’s policy is called REACH — Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals. It requires manufacturers and importers of chemicals to assess substances’ hazards, communicate these hazards through supply chains and ensure safe use of chemicals.

It moves the burden of showing the level at which each chemical is harmful from the government to businesses.

REACH requires:

  • manufacturers to provide hazard, exposure and use data on all chemicals, not just new ones, before they can be used in commerce
  • companies to take responsibility for providing information on health and environmental effects of the chemicals they use
  • hazard information to be communicated both up and down the supply chain, and
  • substances of “very high concern” to have explicit authorization for use and a plan to substitute safer alternatives.

The recommendation to use REACH as a model is part of the report, Lessons Learned: Solutions for Workplace Safety and Health, from the University of Massachusetts. (A PDF of the report’s executive summary is here.)

OSHA administrator David Michaels has acknowledged that the one-chemical-at-a-time regulatory method doesn’t work, and the agency is investigating alternatives.

In a similarity to the REACH plan, OSHA is also developing a list of top chemicals of concern to decide which permissible exposure limits (PELs) are most in need of updating.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates workers suffer more than 55,000 illnesses related to chemical exposures each year.

Do you think the EU’s REACH program is the way to go in the U.S.? How would you update the regulatory process to ensure workers aren’t exposed to hazardous levels of chemicals? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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