In 2016, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) proposed to significantly lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of wood dust from 5 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) to 1 mg/m3. Earlier this year the Cal/OSHA Standards Board considered that proposal. However, after testimony from the American Wood Council (AWC), supported by a broader coalition, the Board rejected the staff recommendation.
While softwood manufacturing did not appear to be significantly impacted by the proposed reduction, the consensus of AWC member companies was that it was an issue with potential precedential impacts. An informal survey of industry manufacturers had indicated that almost all could comply with a 2 mg/m3 threshold.
As wood dust is a key AWC member issue, the organization had been engaged in the California process for several years, building a coalition of interested trade associations. All joined in providing extensive comments to Cal/OSHA and some later met with them in-person. Additionally, AWC testified at a public meeting of the Standards Board, providing an extensive presentation on both technical feasibility and problems with using historical references to support a PEL, as had been proposed by Cal/OSHA.
At the end, the Board chair voted against the proposal, stating that it did not show adequate proof of feasibility. Following additional discussions, Cal/OSHA then agreed with industry and quickly restarted rulemaking on a PEL equal to 2 mg/m3.
“Cal/OSHA staff had not generated sufficient information to claim the 1 milligram per cubic meter level was feasible to achieve,” said AWC Chief Scientist Stewart Holm, who testified.
Cal/OSHA has now finalized this rulemaking with the 2 mg/m3 dust value in place. The effective date of the rule was July 1, 2017.