Outdated exposure limits, reinforced steel, nanotechnology, and confined spaces are the among critical health and safety issues slated for federal action this year.
In an attempt to be transparent, government agencies must release regulatory agendas twice yearly to provide the public with their priorities.
Several agencies released their agendas late last month, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its 2013 agenda last week.
OSHA's newest regulatory agenda includes crystalline silica and confined spaces.
Focus on Deadly Hazards
OSHA's spring 2013 semiannual regulatory agenda, released Jan. 8, focuses on long-recognized and emerging hazards that put workers at risk of serious disease and death.
Among the actions slated: OSHA and the Department of Labor are seeking to update the current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica, calling the current PELs for construction and maritime industries "outdated" and "obsolete."
Workers are exposed to crystalline silica in industries that have abrasive blasting operations, paint manufacturing, glass and concrete product manufacturing, and many construction activities. Crystalline silica has been recognized as carcinogenic to humans, often associated with an increased risk of developing tuberculosis and other nonmalignant respiratory diseases.
In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, silicosis was identified on 161 death certificates as an underlying or contributing cause of death, according to OSHA.
Occupational exposure to beryllium is also on OSHA's 2013 regulatory agenda. For more than a decade, the agency has been gathering data on beryllium's toxicity, risks, and patterns of usage, as well as information on occupational exposure and the relationship between exposure and development of adverse health effects.
Now, the agency has slated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for July.
Steel Risks and Whistleblowers
Also in the category of risk reduction, OSHA has published an RFI seeking information about hazards associated with reinforced steel and post-tensioning activities. OSHA stated that few relevant rules are currently in place and the use of reinforced steel and post-tensioned poured-in-place concrete in commercial and industrial construction is expected to rise.
Other procedural rules proposed by OSHA seek to establish consistent and transparent procedures for filing whistleblower complaints. OSHA said these rules would strengthen its enforcement of its whistleblower program by providing specific timeframes and guidance for filing a complaint, issuing a finding, avenues of appeal, and allowable remedies.
In addition, after 20 years of having confined-space rules for general industry only, OSHA has agreed to issue a proposed rule to protect construction workers in confined spaces.
The Environmental Protection Agency currently has 26 regulatory actions under review—more than any other government agency.
That list includes a proposal to establish reporting requirements for certain nanoscale materials. This rule would propose that manufacturers of these materials notify EPA of their production volume, methods of manufacture and processing, exposure and release information, and available health and safety data.
The EPA has the most regulatory actions under review. One would set reporting requirements for nanoscale materials to establish potential impact on human health and the environment.
EPA says the proposed reporting of these activities will allow the agency to better evaluate the information and consider appropriate action under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
In 2012, the EPA announced plans to collaborate with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on a research project to assess the potential impact of nanomaterials on human health and the environment.
The research is part of a larger international effort that focuses on identifying the origins of nanomaterials, determining how they interact with the human body and the environment, and developing sustainable manufacturing processes.
"Nanotechnology and nanomaterials used in the development of these products improve our everyday lives, but it is important that we understand how humans are exposed to nanomaterials and to assess the risks they may pose to people's health and the environment," said Dr. Tina Bahadori, national program director for EPA's Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research.
The EPA has also proposed amendments to its new chemical premanufacture regulations. These regulations aim to make consistent procedures for claiming chemical and microorganism identity as confidential business information in data from health and safety studies.
This action would increase transparency related to chemicals and microorganisms undergoing review before manufacturing and is likely to increase the availability to the general public of health and safety data on chemicals in commerce, the EPA said.
In another proposed rule, the EPA is seeking to add several categories of chemicals to a list of substances that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment. The categories include eight phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and bisphenol A (BPA).
Other chemicals under the rule include those used in spray-on protective coatings and halogenated flame retardants.