Gino DiCaro

Sensitizing substances advisory committee continues work

By Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications

Capitol Update, Sept. 23, 2005 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) reconvened the Advisory Committee on Sensitizing Substances on September 16.  The issue at hand is exposure to chemicals at levels at or below the permissible exposure limit (PEL) that can lead to an employee developing an allergic reaction.  Although the employer is adhering to safety guidelines by keeping the exposure below the PEL, some chemicals have been shown to be "sensitizers".

The Advisory Committee process on this issue has centered around the creation of a table that would list chemicals and indicate whether they are a dermal (skin) or respiratory sensitizer.  The idea is that employers and employees would see this marker and take more precautions when dealing with this chemical.  However, the "Material Safety Data Sheet" (MSDS), a required form which lists the properties and hazards of a product or a substance, is already available to every employee on any given chemical and should already indicate if a chemical is a "sensitizer".  Hazard communication regulations already in place also require employers to advise employees any time a MSDS is updated.  Employer groups at the Advisory Committee meetings have pointed out that there already seems to be a mechanism in place to deal with this issue, and that the proposed new regulation does not do anything new to help ensure employee safety.

Another aspect of the proposed regulation is "medical monitoring" of employees.  Under this provision, employers would be required to provide an employee access to a medical provider under certain circumstances:

  • Whenever the employee develops signs or symptoms associated with exposure to a substance;
  • When exposure monitoring reveals a level above the PEL for that substance; and
  • Whenever an event such as a spill, leak explosion, or other experience resulting in a likely exposure occurs.

The problem with this, outside of the expense of such a proposition, is that this regulation crosses outside of the regulatory authority of Cal/OSHA by requiring medical treatment for a potential industrial exposure.  CMTA has requested that Cal/OSHA consult with the Division of Workers' Compensation on this issue before proceeding with this portion of the regulation.  CMTA will continue to participate in the Advisory Committee meetings held on this issue.

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