Occupational Safety and Health Administration chief Thorne G. Auchter has proposed extending a temporary stay on a cotton dust standard for the knitting industry so his agency can review a study contending that exposure to the dust in knitting plants doesn't pose a significant health risk.

OSHA said an independent laboratory prepared the study for the textile industry, which has been fighting the tougher dust standard since it was proposed in 1978. The industry challenged the standard in court, but it lost that battle in March, 1980. In November, 1980, five textile associations filed a petition with OSHA saying the standard should be lifted because the agency had not proven that cotton dust actually endangered workers.

When Auchter took office in March, 1981, he issued a 60-day administrative stay of the standard based on the industry's petition. OSHA has extended the stay three times to give the industry time to prepare its study, which was finished in July. The study, OSHA said, shows that respiratory problems reported by workers in the knitting industry are no different from those reported by Southeastern blue-collar workers who are not exposed to cotton dust.

Eric Frumin, safety director of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, called Auchter's action unfair. "You shouldn't stay a law just because industry complains about it," he said. OSHA said its weaker, pre-1978 standard will remain in effect until Oct. 31, when the latest extension of the stay is scheduled to end. OSHA will review comments about the report and the stay until Sept. 13.