Hexavalent Chromium - OSHA Drafts Yet Another Health Standard to Limit Exposure
Just when we thought we had our hands full with OSHA's draft proposed standard on silica exposure, along comes yet another health standard that may impact our industry. Unlike silica, I've gotten nothing but blank stares or silence on the other end of the phone when I mention hexavalent chromium. And with good reason. There's simply not enough exposure to the chemical in construction to warrant such a broad new standard. Perhaps after the initial regulatory review process, OSHA will agree with me and remove construction from the proposal altogether. In case that doesn't happen, however, I think it's an important enough issue that you be provided some details about it.
Hexavalent chromium is a compound widely used in chrome plating, stainless steel welding, ferrochromium alloy production and wood preserving. Hexchrom is also found in dyes for textiles and brick, Portland cement and colored glass and block, among other things. During welding, the chemical can be inhaled and has been found to be toxic, causing increased cases of lung cancer.
In the case of Portland cement, brick masons sometimes contract allergic dermatitis from wet cement, causing their skin to burn and crack. Some in industry would argue that the contact dermatitis from Portland cement is caused by the high Ph levels in the cement, not hexavalent chromium itself. For that reason, this draft proposed standard addresses only exposure from inhalation and eye contact with hexchrom, and not skin contact. Therefore, the standard should most significantly impact those in our industry who do welding. That's the good news. The bad news is that the draft standard contains many of the same stringent provisions in the draft proposal on silica exposure which simply aren't workable in a construction setting.
For starters, OSHA is considering five permissible exposure limits (PELs) and employers would be required to adhere to certain provisions such as medical surveillance and periodic monitoring, once the PEL had been exceeded. But as with silica, employers wouldn't be able to determine whether or not they were exceeding the PEL unless monitoring were being done on a consistent basis. You may recall that we estimated the cost of monitoring to be $350 per worker per day under the silica standard. I doubt that number will change much under the draft hexchrom standard.
In addition to monitoring, employers would also be required to provide hand washing facilities, establish regulated areas, offer medical surveillance and medical screening, keep records of all of the above for 30 years and supply educational and training materials on the hazards of hexchrom. Medical removal protection contained in the draft silica standard is not included in the draft proposal on hexchrom.
Three MCAA members will once again participate in the small business review process in an effort to ensure that Portland cement continues to be excluded from the draft standard and, hopefully, exclude construction altogether. I will certainly keep you apprised of MCAA's efforts in this regard. Should you have any questions about this draft standard, don't hesitate to get in touch with me directly.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.