OSHA has embarked on a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) targeting hexavalent chromium in the workplace, along with other toxic substances found in conjunction with hexavalent chromium.  OSHA’s intent with the NEP is to "target workplaces with occupational exposures to hexavalent chromium" and certain other toxic substances (e.g., antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lead, iron oxide) to encourage compliance with applicable standards.  In 2006, OSHA issued updated standards regulating exposures to hexavalent chromium compounds in general industry, construction, and maritime.  The NEP was effective February 23, 2010.

Under the NEP, inspections will focus on industries where hexavalent chromium overexposures are known to occur, including:  electroplating; aircraft manufacturing; ship building and repair; inorganic dye and pigment manufacturing; iron and steel mills; ferrous foundries; chrome colors and other inorganic pigments.  Establishments with fewer than 10 workers will be included in the NEP.

OSHA’s Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis will prepare for each Area Office a master inspection list for the office to use in planning inspections.  Area Offices are given flexibility to schedule inspections within a specified inspection cycle, in order to make efficient use of resources.  The inspections will be conducted by an Industrial Hygiene Compliance Officer, trained in the hazards of hexavalent chromium.

At the opening conference, the compliance officer will verify that hexavalent chromium or other identified toxic substances are present in the workplace and if they are, the compliance officer will proceed with the inspection.  The compliance officer is instructed to consider and evaluate worker exposures and compliance in activities including, but not limited to:  regular operations; setup and preparation for regular operations; making adjustments during operations; cleaning of the process area; scheduled and unscheduled maintenance; implementation of engineering controls; use of PPE; medical surveillance programs; and worker training and education.  If there are any safety hazards noted, these may be referred for a safety inspection.

This NEP is another in a series of enforcement initiaitives that OSHA is undertaking.  Employers with operations with hexavalent chromium or the other toxic substances included in the NEP must review the NEP and prepare for an inspection.