Rafael Moure-Eraso is the chairman of the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent federal agency that works to protect the public from chemical accidents. He recently released a statement slamming the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (aka OSHA) over its refusal to include “unclassified hazards” into its broader standards of safety. However, according to a letter he wrote to the Office of Management of Budget, this provision may have been removed due to pressure from “affected industries”, which reads pretty clearly as lobbying on the parts of industrial plants and facilities companies who see safety as cutting into their bottom line.
Mr. Moure-Eraso’s concern is based on five major investigations and a safety study, all conducted over the past eight years. He went on to cite a CSB study of three powder flash fires that struck a facility in Gallatin, Tennessee: five workers died and two were injured due to such “unclassified hazards”. This would seem bad enough, but then another fire reportedly broke out at the same facility. The Gallatin fire Assistant Chief Tom Dale was quoted as saying,
“Of course when they [dispatch] put it out at Hoeganaes [the facility] your heart stops and you hope nobody got hurt. We were fortunate last night.”
The workers at the Hoeganaes facility were lucky this time, but history is not on their side — and neither, it seems, is OSHA. OSHA quite clearly does make a big difference in combustible dust safety (just look at their record of inspections and violations handed out) yet it’s important to be flexible and open to more progressive standards to keep moving ahead and continue making America’s workplaces safer. It’s not worth losing lives over lax standards or corporate lobbying.