Hexavalent Chromium Exposure Next On OSHA's Hit List
If you are a movie buff of any sort, you may remember that phrase coined after the release of the second "Jaws" movie ? "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water." Obviously the first film made people a little terrified about swimming in the ocean for fear of a shark attack; the second movie gave folks even greater pause for heading into the deep blue sea. After having reviewed OSHA's draft proposed standard on silica exposure in great detail, only to turn around and have yet another draft standard on hexavalent chromium exposure thrown in the mix, it feels a bit like the jaws of OSHA are about to sink a little deeper into the construction industry.
In February 2002, the Department of Labor was sued by Public Citizen and PACE International Union for failure to issue a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium, or CrVI. The plaintiffs prevailed and now OSHA is under court order to issue ? on an expedited basis ? a new PEL for CrVI by the end of this year, and the rule must be finalized by January 2006.
For those of you unfamiliar with this chemical, hexavalent chromium is a compound widely used in chrome plating, stainless steel welding, ferrochromium alloy production and wood preserving. CrVI is also found in dyes for textiles and brick, Portland cement, and colored glass and block, among other things. Workers subjected to CrVI are at a greater risk of lung cancer and damage to their respiratory tract, eyes and kidneys.
Hexavalent chromium has also been associated with several skin disorders, ranging from irritation to ulcers. In the case of Portland cement, brick masons sometimes contract allergic dermatitis from wet cement, causing their skin to burn and crack. Some in the 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 CrVI, not skin contact; therefore, the standard should most significantly impact those in our industry who do welding. I think it's still important for our readers to be aware of the standard because it contains many of the same provisions as the draft proposal on silica exposure.
The existing PEL for CrVI is 100 micrograms per cubic meter; OSHA is currently considering five PELs: 10, 5, 1, 0.5 and .25 over an eight-hour time weighted average (TWA). OSHA is also considering setting an "action level," typically set as half the PEL, at which point employers would be required to adhere to certain provisions, such as medical surveillance and periodic monitoring, once the PEL had been exceeded.
As drafted, employers would be required to determine the eight-hour TWA exposure for each employee on the basis of a sufficient number of personal breathing zone air samples to accurately characterize exposure on each shift, for each job classification and in each work area. If an employer does representative sampling instead of sampling all employees, the employee expected to have the highest exposure must be sampled.
For tasks where CrVI are present or produced, such as abrasive blasting, welding, cutting or torch burning of stainless steel or other materials coated with CrVI, or spray application of paints or coatings containing CrVI, employers must treat the employees performing these tasks as if they were exposed above the PEL, unless initial exposure assessment indicates otherwise.
Periodic monitoring is also required to ensure that the PEL is being met. If initial monitoring reveals employee exposures at or above the PEL, employers must perform monitoring every three months. But better yet, additional monitoring must be performed WHENEVER there has been ANY change in the construction process, raw materials, equipment, personnel, work practices or control methods that may result in new or additional exposures to CrVI, or "when the employer has any reason to believe that new or additional exposures have occurred." You can't possibly know the exposure level unless you are constantly monitoring for it ? and at great cost. If you are only on a job for a matter of three or four days, the lab results from monitoring during that period of time aren't going to mean much, but you'll still be required to spend the money to determine the PEL at that time.
You may recall that under the draft silica standard, we estimated the cost of monitoring silica on the work site at $350 per worker, per day. Given the similar monitoring requirements, I don't think that estimate will change much under the hexavalent chromium draft standard. Also, much like the draft silica standard, we as an industry find the draft proposed CrVI standard so problematic because it just is not feasible in a construction setting. Employers would be prohibited from rotating workers; regulated areas would have to be established; and medical surveillance, medical screening and record keeping would become permanent fixtures for every contractor.
MCAA again has two members who will be participating in the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) process to assess the impact this draft standard will have on mason contractors, especially smaller businesses. I am hopeful that, at the end of this review period, we will be successful in taking construction out of the CrVI equation all together.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.