MAC: Mines and Communities

Workplace Exposure Standard for Hexavalent Chromium Cut Ten-Fold

Published by MAC on 2006-03-01

Workplace Exposure Standard for Hexavalent Chromium Cut Ten-Fold


1st March 2006

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Monday published a final standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium, a known human carcinogen, in general industry, construction and shipyards. The new standard reduced the allowable exposure by a factor of 10.

The new standard lowers OSHA's permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium, and for all its compounds, from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time weighted average.

Approximately 558,000 workers are covered by the provisions of the new standard.

The new standard was published in time to obey an order of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals which in April 2003 ordered OSHA to promulgate a standard governing workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium.

"OSHA has worked hard to produce a final standard that substantially reduces the significant health risks for employees exposed to hexavalent chromium," said Jonathan Snare, acting assistant secretary for occupational safety and health. "Our new standard protects workers to the extent feasible, while providing employers, especially small employers, adequate time to transition to the new requirements."

The standard also includes provisions relating to preferred methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping.

Hexavalent chromium compounds are widely used in the chemical industry as ingredients and catalysts in pigments, metal plating and chemical synthesis. Hexavalent chromium can also be produced when welding on stainless steel or some painted surfaces.

The major health effects associated with exposure to hexavalent chromium include lung cancer, nasal septum ulcerations and perforations, skin ulcerations, and allergic and irritant contact dermatitis.

The new standard recognizes that, given available technology, the lowest level employers involved in aerospace painting operations of whole aircraft or large aircraft parts can reach through feasible engineering and work practice controls is 25 µg/m³. For these types of aerospace painting, OSHA requires the use of engineering and work practice controls to reduce exposures to 25 µg/m³, and allows the supplemental use of respirators to be used to achieve the PEL.

Employers are given a 90 day transition period to familiarize themselves with the technologies and practices needed for compliance.

Start-up date for all provisions, except engineering controls is 180 days from the effective date, and one year for employers with fewer than 20 employees. For more information, visit

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