Lead Standard Changing Soon

On November 10, 2015 Cal/OSHA held another Advisory Committee meeting to discuss its latest proposed changes to the Lead Standard for General Industry and for Construction (Sections 5198 and 1532.1, respectively).  Much of the discussion was about Cal/OSHA’s current Permissible Exposure Limit of 50 ug/m3, biologic testing and worker hygiene issues.  This article will summarize the discussion at the latest Advisory Committee meeting.

An article in the Cal/OSHA Reporter about the meeting states that, “Cal/OSHA is revising the lead standards because the regulations haven’t been updated in decades and because current data shows that workers can suffer serious health effects at exposures far below the current (limit)”.  That said, the current ACGIH Threshold Limit Value, which was proposed in 1993 set a lead TLV at exactly the current Cal/OSHA PEL, however with the addition that Lead is a Confirmed Animal Carcinogen.  So, how “outdated” is the exposure standard may be up for discussion.  Dr. Michael Kosnett, who I know and respect, believes the PEL should be substantially lower.  Cal/OSHA is therefore proposing to lower the current PEL of 50 ug/m3 to 10 ug/m3.  They are also proposing to substantially reduce the Action Limit from 30 ug/m3 to 2 ug/m3.  I know that some question whether that concentration is measurable, but based on my research and discussions with other industrial hygienists and laboratories, I can say it is.  I think Cal/OSHA will adopt the Action Limit and PEL as proposed.  There was also some limited discussion of phasing in the PEL for some work groups.

The issue regarding biologic testing also seemed to cause much discussion, based primarily on feasibility and cost.  I believe much of the discussion was valid and here, I depart from Mike Kosnett’s opinions that air monitoring cannot capture a true picture of exposure.  If employers utilize the services of professional industrial hygienists to assess exposure, air monitoring would do an excellent job of characterizing and determining the extent of Lead exposure to workers.  It seems Cal/OSHA is in agreement and seems to suggest that employers use the services of a Certified industrial Hygienist (CIH).  I hope this makes its way into the final version of the standard.  Based on Cal/OSHA’s comments, I foresee changed verbiage that will reduce some of the need for obtaining Blood Lead testing as long as a solid air monitoring program is performed under a CIH demonstrating low worker exposure.  This will not eliminate Blood Lead testing, but may reduce the amount of testing needed unless the Blood Lead level of workers is elevated.  There appears to be substantial science for establishing the Blood Lead level limits.

Worker hygiene practices are another important element of the proposed changes and there was much discussion about the latest changes, which seemed positive.  Along with worker hygiene, detailed worker training and hazard communication training remains an integral part of the standard.

A new addition to the proposed standard was an addition for a threshold amount of lead work, below which much of the standard would not apply.  This would have impact on the construction industry where work is often of very short duration.  This would affect certain operations like torch cutting.  I will not detail this element of the proposal, but the threshold is determined by the amount of work performed, i.e., exposure in a day over a period of 30 days; the results of a hazard survey; and, results of blood lead testing.

All indications are that Cal/OSHA will be moving forward with a new Lead Standard and most believe it will be adopted by first quarter 2016.  Call us if you need more detailed information about the proposed changes.