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The nation’s toughest rules for on-the-job lead exposure has just been passed by California workplace safety regulators.The Cal/OSHA Standards Board passed the sweeping update to California’s lead regulation despite heavy concerns of feasibility and inaccurate cost estimates from the construction and battery industries.

In a 5-2 vote, the Standards Board expressed concerns over the timeline for implementation, despite supporting the regulation’s substantive goals and ultimately approving the regulation.

In addition to training and blood lead monitoring of exposed employees, California’s present regulation regarding workplace lead exposure (Title 8, Section 5198) requires employers to ensure that no employees have lead exposure over a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms in a cubic meter of air.

The California Chamber of Commerce reports that this new update would, among other changes, drastically lower the threshold for testing (from 30 micrograms of exposure to 2 micrograms) and the PEL (from 50 micrograms to 10 micrograms).  Importantly, the new update covers both construction and non-construction worksites.

Because of the extreme lowering of the relevant thresholds, even industries that do not consider themselves to be lead-based should be aware of this regulation. For example, any workplaces working with brass (of which lead is a component) or containing brass fixtures may want to examine whether their activities (such as polishing brass) would now be covered by the regulation.

Although no opposition groups debated the hazards of lead, extensive testimony from opposition groups criticized the cost estimates in the Standardized Regulatory Impact Assessment (SRIA) as grossly inaccurate. In addition, strong opposition from battery manufacturers focused on the unrealistic nature of Cal/OSHA’s implementation timeline, noting that their facilities would need years to come into compliance given the time required to obtain permits and complete construction.

Notably, the Standards Board and staff did acknowledge these implementation timing concerns, and the rulemaking took the rare step of asking the Office of Administrative Law to delay its approval by six months, which will functionally delay enforcement until January 2025.

The Board adopted amendments to title 8, California Code of Regulations (CCR), section 1532.1 of the Construction Safety Orders (CSO) and sections 5155 and 5198 of the General Industry Safety Orders (GISO).