The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has resolved a dispute with the Office of Management and Budget over a proposed rule requiring chemical manufacturers to label hazardous products in the workplace.
OMB had tried to block the proposed rule, asserting that OSHA had failed to justify the need for such a regulation. It directed OSHA to reevaluate the issue before publishing the proposed rule.
The rule has been the focus of recent complaints by some interest groups that OMB, through its process of reviewing most agencies' regulations, is illegally interfering in the regulatory process--a charge that OMB officials deny. The two-month-long dispute, which will be the subject of House hearings today, was resolved by the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief.
The Carter administration originally proposed rules for labeling toxic workplace chemicals, but the proposal was withdrawn by Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan soon after President Reagan took office. OSHA proposed a new version, and the chemical manufacturers reportedly urged OMB to clear it, preferring one nationwide standard to different state standards. The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, has criticized the revised OSHA proposal as a watered-down version of the original, but it urged the administration to proceed with the regulatory process.
The proposal would require chemical manufacturers to assess the hazards of their products, and employers to provide information to their workers about the hazards. It would cover any chemical that is "combustible, a compressed gas, explosive, flammable, a health hazard, an organic peroxide, an oxidizer, pyrophoric, unstable or water-reactive."
Peg Seminario, an industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO, said the union is particularly concerned about three aspects of the regulations. One is that chemical companies would be given considerable leeway to decide what substances are toxic and require labeling. The trade secrets provision, the union charges, is also too broad and will allow companies to withhold substantial amounts of information. It also is concerned that several important industries--like the construction industry and service industries--would not be covered.
Under the proposal, the labels would have to include a hazardous label (such as "flammable"), but would only have to include a "chemical identifier" that a person could look up on a master safety sheet for more detailed information.
OSHA estimates the revised proposal would cost industry $581.75 million initially and $227.92 million annually compared to estimates that the Carter program would cost $2.6 billion initially and $1.25 billion each year after that.
Pipes that transport hazardous substances would be exempted from the labeling requirement, unlike the Carter administration proposal. OSHA estimates this change would save about $1.73 billion--two-thirds of the initial compliance costs--and an estimated $889.5 million or 70 percent of the annual costs.
The master-sheet provision would save about $395.94 million or about 69 percent of the initial costs of the Carter proposal and about $281.07 million or 80 percent of annual costs, OSHA said.