OSHA Blasts Explosives Rule

By David Michaels

We’ve been wondering why the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration still hasn’t issued new rules reducing worker exposure to silica, beryllium, diacetyl and other well-documented but under-regulated hazards. Now we understand. OSHA is hard at work, using its limited resources to weaken existing standards.

OSHA has just issued a proposed rule modifying the rules that are supposed to protect workers engaged in the manufacture, storage, sale, transportation, handling, and use of explosives. This modification was done at request of the munitions industry, which appears to have gotten just what it wanted: OSHA estimates that the rule will save employers money because it will reduce numerous regulatory requirements, while imposing virtually no new ones. What it won’t do is significantly reduce the risk of injury and death among employees who work with explosives.

Here’s a more in-depth report from our friend Bill Kojola at the AFL-CIO:

OSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in theFederal Register to revise the explosives and blasting agents standard (1910.109). This standard was first promulgated in 1971 (based on two national consensus standards from the National Fire Protection Association) and except for several small changes, has remained largely unchanged since that time.

In response to a petition and detailed proposed regulatory language filed in July 2002 from the Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI), OSHA issued this NPRM.

Essentially, the changes in the proposed rule provide deregulatory relief to employers but virtually no benefit to workers. As requested by the petitioners, OSHA is now proposing to withdraw its existing requirements covering the storage of explosives, arguing that they are preempted from regulating this issue under section 4(b)(1) of the OSH Act because another federal agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has exercised its authority to regulate this matter. After more than 30 years of enforcing storage requirements for explosives, OSHA is now proposing to doing the bidding of industry and bail out of these important requirements. This represents a serious setback for workers and a capitulation to industry.

While the proposed rule does include some small improvements involving harmonizing with some existing requirements and training requirements, the “de-regulatory benefits” are designed to reduce compliance costs for employers and providing no benefits to workers. In the only example given by OSHA for “safety benefits” that might be felt by workers, the agency cites one incident involving the death of two workers, indicating that the new training requirements could have potentially prevented the incident. When the agency explained how that might be so, it provided no evidence on how training might have helped but instead indicated that the workers were not provided with the proper equipment (protective clothing and nonsparking devices).

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.