ASSE Urges Negotiated Rulemaking on Combustible Dust

The American Society of Safety Engineers sent a statement for the record to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety urging caution in the push for an OSHA standard addressing combustible dusts. Members of the subcommittee in essence demanded a standard at a hearing July 29 where OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr. testified, but ASSE said a deeper understanding of current OSHA standards and their enforcement calls for a slower approach.

The Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., prompted the hearing and also the "Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008" (HR 5522), which was introduced by House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman George Miller. ASSE said it supports much in Miller's approach, including the bill's assurance that any new OSHA rule concerning combustible dust will not be less effective than National Fire Protection Association voluntary consensus standards. Other issues related to managing combustible dust also should be addressed by the legislation, ASSE said, most importantly the lack of adequate OSHAresources to conduct inspections. That can cause dangerous workplaces to be missed and inspections to be hurried or done without adequately trained inspectors.

Because of the complex technical and policy issues involved, Congress should require OSHA to address the issue through negotiated rulemaking, ASSE said. noting that this mirrors the voluntary consensus-building process used by industry and the OSH community to address combustible dust. (OSHA has used negotiated rulemaking for steel erection and cranes and derricks standards, but the process is not speedier than traditional rulemaking.) ASSE also expressed concern over setting unrealistic dates for OSHA to issue an interim final standard within 90 days of enactment, followed by a final standard within 18 months. Completing a final rule within 24 months is a more realistic goal, the association said.

ASSE argued more time would allow Congress to work with OSHA and the safety and health community to address what an underlying difficulty with the current regulatory approach to combustible dust: With 17 OSHA regulations impacting combustible dust risks, it is reasonable to expect difficulties in employers' efforts to establish a cohesive and effective combustible dust hazard management program in a workplace.

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