The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed what it hopes will be non-controversial changes to its personal protective equipment (PPE) standards for eye and face protection in all covered industry sectors except agriculture. OSHA’s initiative is part of a multi-year agency undertaking to update consensus standards referenced in its rules.

In a March 13 Federal Register notice (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-03-13/pdf/2015-05521.pdf), the agency proposed to update its PPE standards in general industry, construction, maritime terminals, shipyards, and longshoring to conform to the American National Standards Institute’s 2010 consensus standard ANSI Z87.1, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. 

The Z87.1 standard is the latest in a series of ANSI updates to its eye and face protection standards. The last was released in 2003. In OSHA’s notice, the agency said the 2010 version differs from earlier ones by focusing on a hazard, such as droplet and splash, impact, optical radiation, dust and mist exposure, and specifying the type of equipment needed to protect workers from that hazard. Earlier versions focused on the type of protective gear, such as spectacles, goggles, face shields, or welding hats, OSHA explained.

The 2010 ANSI consensus standard also contains general requirements for all types of protective equipment, assessing optical qualities, minimum robustness, ignition thresholds, corrosion resistance, and minimum coverage.

The OSHA construction rule for eye and face protection, 29 CFR 1926.102, has not been updated since 1993, while the rules for the other industry groups were last revised in 2009, according to the OSHA notice. Those standards are: 

  • general industry, 29 CFR 1910.133; 
  • shipyards, 29 CFR 1915.153; 
  • marine terminals, 29 CFR 1917.91; and 
  • longshoring, 29 CFR 1918.101.

To provide consistency for employers engaged in multiple industry groups, the proposed changes also would revise portions of the construction standard to bring that rule’s language in line with the other four revised rules.

OSHA’s optimism that its proposal will be accepted readily stems, in part, from the unanimously recommended approval of the construction rule update last year by the agency’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. The committee includes contractor and union representatives.

International Safety Equipment Association communications director Lydia Baugh told Bloomberg BNA that protective equipment producers already design and manufacture products to meet the 2010 ANSI standard. While OSHA still references the 1968 ANSI standard, no manufacturer produces gear following that guidance, she said.

Where older PPE continues to be used, the proposed OSHA standard would allow equipment to stay in use if the gear satisfied ANSI’s prior standards issued in 2003 and 1989. However, PPE that met only the requirements of the 1968 ANSI standard, allowed only under the current construction rule, would no longer meet OSHA requirements.

OSHA is taking public comment on the proposed rule changes through April 13 (http://www.regulations.gov). Commenters should reference OSHA Docket No. OSHA-2014-0024. The agency has not projected a date for issuing a final rule.

In other OSHA news, the agency has announced it is extending until October 9 the deadline to file comments on its Request for Information (RFI) on Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). The original comment period closure date was April 8. The RFI seeks technical information about workplace chemical hazards and OSHA’s rulemaking procedures for establishing exposure limits.