by Ken Ward, Jr., cross-posted from Sustained Outrage: a Gazette Watchdog Blog
During a public hearing last night in Georgia, the federal Chemical Safety Board tried to answer critics who complained the board had backed off its strong recommendation that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) write new rules to protect workers nationwide from the dangers of explosive dust. In approving a final report on the disastrous explosion that killed 14 workers at and Imperial Sugar refinery, board members unanimously added this language as a recommendation to OSHA:
Proceed expeditiously, consistent with the Chemical Safety Board’s November 2006 recommendation and OSHA’s announced intention to conduct rulemaking, to promulgate a comprehensive dust standard to reduce or eliminate hazards from fire and explosion combustible powders and dust.
But the move did not satisfy the CSB’s critics. Evan Yeats of the United Food and Commercial Workers union told the Savannah Morning News that the board’s action was just a “public relations maneuver”:
It still could take years for OSHA to enact regulations using the current process, Yeats said. “We really can’t wait that long,” he said.
Eric Frumin, health and safety coordinator for the labor coalition Change to Win, told me this morning:
Expeditious? What does that mean? Normal OSHA schedules for new standards take many years — 10 years for grain dust explosions; 6 years and counting for crane disasters. Is expeditious half of that? I hope not, but we can’t wait to find out.
Is that the best advice that the Board can offer about the urgency of this crisis with dust hazards? If so, then this Board ought to re-read its charter. Especially after the Congress has even proposed specific legislation to bypass the problems with “emergency” standards, and give OSHA the authority to adopt a temporary fix while the final standard is in the works. Why won’t the Board at least endorse that solution?
The Board knows that major corporations cannot be trusted to take urgent preventive action on their own. That’s why we have safety laws with mandatory standards and enforcement. It’s too bad the Board still fails to act like they believe in them.
But workers and their families will pay the price — especially when the White House holds back agencies like OSHA and EPA from setting new regulations.
Under federal workplace safety law, OSHA can adopt an emergency temporary standard — which goes into place without the time-consuming process of public input, hearings and potentially litigation — if the agency finds:
I’m not familiar of the history of efforts to enact emergency standards by OSHA … but I know that its sister agency, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, has rarely used this route. Bresland told news reporters yesterday that OSHA has not been that successful in issuing temporary standards, and has usually been overturned in court when it tried to do so.
But even the Bush administration found a place for using emergency standards, publishing one in March 2006 in response to major problems with mine evacuation procedures made all to clear by the Sago Mine disaster and the Aracoma Mine fire here in West Virginia.
OSHA has announced plans to write a combustible dust standard … but the agency has given no indications that it will do so on an emergency basis. And already, OSHA has missed its own self-imposed deadline of issuing a preliminary request for comments in August 2009.
Stay tuned … As The Pump Handle blog commented yesterday:
When DOL’s latest version of its regulatory agenda comes out next month, we’ll see if OSHA has a more ambitious timeline to get these much-needed explosion-prevention rules in place.