thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA to Revise Lead Standards
An advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) published by OSHA on June 28 began the rulemaking process for the agency’s revision of its standards for occupational exposure to lead. OSHA’s ANPRM cites recent medical research findings that adverse health effects in adults can occur at blood lead levels lower than those required by the agency’s current standards. In 1978, OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for lead was set at an airborne concentration of 50 µg/m3 over an eight-hour time-weighted average, with the goal of keeping blood lead levels under 40 µg/dL for most workers. Under the agency’s current lead standards, workers must be temporarily removed from their jobs when their blood lead levels are greater than or equal to 60 µg/dL for general industry and greater than or equal to 50 µg/dL for construction. Return to work after lead-related medical removal is permitted when employees’ blood lead levels are again less than 40 µg/dL. But the Federal Register notice announcing the ANPRM states that blood lead levels as low as 5 µg/dL “have been associated with impaired kidney and reproductive function, high blood pressure, and cognitive effects attributed to prenatal exposure.” Research has also shown that adults with blood lead levels of 5–19 µg/dL performed more poorly on neurocognitive and neuropsychologic assessments than adults with levels below 5 µg/dL. Information cited in the ANPRM estimates that there are more than 44,100 businesses in the United States whose employees receive blood lead level tests. Of these, approximately 8,600 have workers whose blood lead levels are 5 μg/dL or higher and 5,300 have workers whose blood lead levels are 10 μg/dL or higher. Other government entities and public health organizations have already taken action to reduce permissible blood lead levels. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) released a position statement recommending revisions to OSHA’s current lead standards, including its PEL, in 2016. In 2018, the Department of Defense lowered its medical removal level to 20 µg/dL in response to a study by the National Research Council that found the current OSHA standards to be insufficient for protecting personnel repeatedly exposed to lead at firing ranges. Michigan’s state OSHA plan has reduced its medical removal levels for both construction and industry to 30 µg/dL, and the state OSHA plans for California and Washington have also begun revising their occupational lead standards. Through the recently published ANPRM, federal OSHA is now considering updates to its lead standards as well. The ANPRM gathers input from the public and stakeholders on reducing OSHA’s current blood lead level triggers in the medical removal protection and medical surveillance provisions of its current lead standards for general industry and construction. The agency has also collected information related to how ancillary provisions in the agency’s current standards could be modified to reduce workers’ blood lead levels and whether it should consider reducing its current PEL. Questions posed in the ANPRM relate to topics such as ACOEM’s 2016 recommendations, efforts undertaken by state OSHA plans, improved testing and surveillance methods for lead, and employers’ current practices related to managing lead exposures. The full text of the ANPRM can be found in the Federal Register. An OSHA press release published on June 28 provides more information.
ILO Adds OHS to Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
The International Labor Organization (ILO) announced on June 10 that delegates attending the International Labor Conference in Geneva had approved a measure to add the principle of a safe, healthy working environment to ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Previously, the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work consisted of four categories: the freedom of association and recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor; the abolition of child labor; and the elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. Occupational Safety and Health will now comprise a fifth category. The Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work were adopted in 1998, with each ILO member state committing to respect and promote these principles and rights. As of 2022, 187 countries are members of ILO. More information can be found in ILO’s press release.
OSHA Extends National Emphasis Program for COVID-19
OSHA has extended its National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 until further notice, the agency announced in late June. Launched in March 2021 and set to expire July 7, 2022, the NEP originally focused on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 and on employers that retaliated against workers who complained about unsafe or unhealthy work conditions or exercised other rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The program was revised in July 2021 to target industries with the most risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposures, such as meat and poultry processing. OSHA says the NEP will continue to cover both healthcare and non-healthcare industries.
OSHA’s extension of the NEP followed reports from CDC of increasing coronavirus hospitalization rates across the United States in recent months. “This increase in hospitalizations reinforces the need for OSHA to continue prioritizing inspections at workplaces with a higher potential for coronavirus exposures, such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other healthcare and emergency response providers treating patients with coronavirus,” OSHA’s press release states.
OSHA is working on a standard on infectious diseases as well as a permanent standard intended to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19. According to the Department of Labor’s spring 2022 regulatory agenda, OSHA plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on infectious diseases in May 2023. The regulatory agenda indicates that OSHA anticipates issuing its final rule on COVID-19 hazards in healthcare sooner—in September of this year.
New App Helps Outdoor Workers Avoid Overexposure to UV Radiation
A new mobile app called SunSmart Global UV is intended to help outdoor workers and others avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and know when to use sun protection. The app works by providing daily UV levels for searchable locations worldwide as well as times when sun protection is required. SunSmart Global UV was developed by Cancer Council Victoria, a nonprofit organization in Australia, and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, a government agency. The World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Meteorological Organization, and the United Nations Environment Programme are jointly launching the app, according to an ILO press release.
SunSmart Global UV is based on the UV index, which indicates the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun at the earth’s surface on a scale of 1 to 11. ILO explains that modifying outdoor activities and using sun protection are recommended when the UV index is 3 or above.
“The higher the index value, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eyes and the less time it takes for harm to occur,” ILO’s press release states. “UV damage is cumulative, and UV can be harmful when people are exposed for long periods—even at low levels.”
The SunSmart Global UV app is available for free on iOS and Android devices. Learn more about the app’s development on ILO’s website.
New Toxicological Profile Published for Acetone
A new final toxicological profile for acetone is available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to ATSDR, workers in industries such as commercial painting, plastic manufacturing, household cleaning, and beauty salons may be exposed to higher levels of acetone in workplace air. The agency’s information sheet on acetone advises that a strong scent of acetone and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat are “warning signs of moderate exposure.” Health effects associated with breathing high amounts of acetone during a short period of time can include headaches, confusion, nausea, racing pulse, and unconsciousness, and skin contact with acetone can cause dryness, irritation, and cracking. Studies of animals have shown birth defects, male infertility, and kidney, liver, and nerve damage associated with long-term acetone exposure. ATSDR notes that it is not known if long-term exposure to the chemical affects people similarly.
OSHA Proposes Approval of Massachusetts State Plan
OSHA has proposed approval of a new occupational safety and health plan that would cover Massachusetts’ state and local government employers and their employees, according to a proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on June 30. The agency also proposes to fund initial approval of the state plan from the Department of Labor’s budget for fiscal year 2022. If approved, Massachusetts would become the newest state plan. These workplace safety and health programs are operated by U.S. states or territories, but federal OSHA provides approval, monitoring, and up to 50 percent of funding.
OSHA’s preliminary assessment of the developmental state plan submitted by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards is that the plan meets federal OSHA’s approval criteria or will meet the criteria for approving state plans within three years. According to OSHA, Massachusetts has also provided “adequate assurances that it will be at least as effective as federal OSHA” in protecting workers covered by the plan. OSHA estimates that the Massachusetts state plan would cover 6,500 public sector employers and nearly 434,000 public employees. Further details can be found in a press release published by federal OSHA and in the Federal Register.
New Skin Notation Profile for Flavoring Compounds
A new skin notation profile for the flavoring compound diacetyl and its substitute, 2,3-pentanedione, was published in July by NIOSH. The substances carry the SEN and DIR (IRR) designations, which indicate that they may cause immune-mediated reactions and irritation following dermal exposure. Occupational exposures to both chemicals have been linked to decreased lung function and to the severe, irreversible lung disease obliterative bronchiolitis. Other health effects of occupational exposure to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione include irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
New skin notation profiles are also available for chlorodiphenyl (54% chlorine), a fluid potentially present in older transformers and capacitators; dioxane, an organic solvent; beta-chloroprene, an intermediate in artificial rubber production; and 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, an intermediate in polyurethane products, along with its variant form 2,6-toluene diisocyanate and mixtures of the two chemicals.
NIOSH skin notations offer warnings about the direct, systemic, and sensitizing effects of chemical exposures to the skin. Each skin notation profile summarizes epidemiological and toxicological data associated with skin contact with a chemical and the rationale behind the chemical’s hazard-specific skin notation assignment. All skin notation profiles are available on NIOSH’s website.
EPA Revises Three Risk Determinations
EPA proposes to find that three solvents—perchloroethylene (PCE), n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), and methylene chloride—present “unreasonable [risks] of injury to human health.” Draft revised risk determinations for these solvents released this summer incorporate policy changes announced by EPA in 2021. Unlike previous risk evaluations, the new draft risk evaluations do not assume that impacted workers always use personal protective equipment and evaluate the solvents as whole chemical substances rather than for each condition of use. This “whole chemical approach” applies “when it is clear the majority of the conditions of use warrant one determination,” EPA explains.
According to EPA, methylene chloride is used in vapor degreasing, metal cleaning, sealants, and adhesive removers. NMP is used in the manufacture of petrochemicals, electronics, and plastic material and resins and for producing and removing paints, coatings, and adhesives. PCE is also used for cleaning and degreasing, and in lubricants, adhesives, and sealants.
Revised risk determinations for PCE, NMP, and methylene chloride are available on the EPA website. Further details can be found in EPA’s press releases announcing the draft revised risk determinations for PCE, NMP, and methylene chloride.

NIOSH Approvals for Certain Respirators Now Obsolete
The temporary NIOSH approvals granted for 19 respirator models earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic have become obsolete, the agency announced in June. A device with an obsolete approval may not be manufactured but can still be sold, used, and recognized as NIOSH approved until the agency revokes the approval or the manufacturer rescinds it.
The affected devices include 14 N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) and four powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) with the letters “PH” in their NIOSH approval designations. “PH” indicates they were approved for the public health emergency (PHE) related to the pandemic. A list of the now-obsolete respirators, with their NIOSH approval numbers and their manufacturers’ names, appears on the NIOSH website. The temporary approvals were granted between May and November 2020 to address shortages in respirator supplies.
NIOSH states that obsoleting the devices at this time allows users “to exhaust any remaining supply of PHE-approved respirators” and purchase other NIOSH-approved respirators before the agency revokes the devices’ approvals at the end of the public health emergency.
All NIOSH-approved respirators appear on the agency’s certified equipment list. Users can also check the status of PHE approvals on the list.