Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) accused the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday of agreeing secretly with the Office of Management and Budget last year not to issue rules to protect public school employes from asbestos exposure.

EPA officials strongly denied the accusation and said a worker-protection rule was sent to the OMB for review last week.

Florio based his charge on an internal EPA memorandum that recounted a meeting between EPA and OMB officials last month.

According to the memo, OMB official Dave Gibbons said he had been "assured" by Alvin Alm, former deputy EPA administrator, that no worker-protection rules would be proposed even though the EPA had earlier accepted a petition requesting such regulations from the Service Employes International Union (SEIU), which represents thousands of custodial and other school workers.

"What happened to Dave's agreement with Al Alm that we would not proceed with rulemaking?" the memo stated. "Dave feels that he was assured not to worry about the Nov. 30 response to SEIU and that EPA would not proceed with rulemaking."

Alm, who left the EPA last January, said yesterday that he had "no recollection" of any such agreements with OMB officials.

"I never made any agreements with OMB, ever," he said. "I've always been a strong advocate of worker protection."

Other EPA officials who were present at meetings between Alm and OMB representatives also said they could not recall any agreements about the rule.

"I was flabbergasted -- really surprised -- when he Gibbons laid it out that way," said Judy Nelson, who wrote the memo for her boss, assistant EPA administrator John A. Moore. Nelson said she was unable to confirm that any agreement was made, and that OMB officials have not brought up the subject again.

OMB officials, however, said yesterday that they believed they had a commitment from the EPA not to propose a worker-protection rule.