Unions Sue To Force OSHA Metalworking Fluids Standard

On October 21, 2003, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the United Steelworkers of America (USW) filed suit against OSHA to force the organization to issue a standard that would reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) by a factor of 10 for all metalworking fluid mists. PMPA has joined the suit as an intervener on the side of OSHA.


On October 21, 2003, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the United Steelworkers of America (USW) filed suit against OSHA to force the organization to issue a standard that would reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) by a factor of 10 for all metalworking fluid mists. PMPA has joined the suit as an intervener on the side of OSHA.

The unions’ complaint stems from OSHA’s refusal to act on a series of recommendations made by a majority of the agency’s Metal-working Fluids Standards Advisory Committee (MFSAC) in its final report in July 1999.

The majority’s recommendations included: Reduction of the PEL from the current 5 milligrams per cubic meter of air, 8-hour time weighted average, to 0.5 milligrams; medical monitoring and surveillance; medical removal; respiratory protection; mandatory air sampling and exposure assessment; work practice and engineering controls; and enhanced employee information and training over and above that already required by the Hazard Communication Standard.

PMPA Director of Management Services David Burch was a business representative on the MFSAC. He led a spirited, small business offensive against the undemonstrated need for this type of standard during the MFSAC proceedings.

“Proponents of a standard were not able to prove significant risk to exposed employees during the 2-year MFSAC process,” explained Mr. Burch. “Nor were they able to demonstrate excessive levels of MWF exposures. Therefore, we don’t think that a defensible case for additional regulation has ever been made.”

While denying the need for a formal OSHA health standard, Mr. Burch and other industry representatives to the MFSAC argued strenuously for a voluntary fluid management guideline. They felt that such a guideline would be more efficient and more effective in controlling exposures than would complex, confusing and costly regulations.

The sheer complexity of regulating metalworking fluid mists, coupled with the failure by proponents to meet strict regulatory requirements for imposing huge cost and admin-istrative burdens on employers, resulted in OSHA’s refusal to move ahead with the standard. Instead, OSHA cooperated with metalworking fluid formulators and users to create a Best Practices voluntary fluid management guideline, the only unanimous recommendation made by the MFSAC.

That hasn’t satisfied the unions, however. “The unions may think a standard will protect workers, but in the end, the costs it would impose — with no demonstrated benefit to employee health — will simply expedite the flight of metalworking manufacturing jobs overseas,” added Burch. “PMPA remains steadfast in its support of reasonable and effective worker safety and health protections and will continue to fight unnecessarily complex, costly and, ultimately, ineffective regulations,” he concluded.