Hanging a Number on Dust Control
The action-level concept came from the NAS report, which proposed that corrective action should be taken whenever layered dust exceeded a specified depth (over a 200-square foot area). The NAS did what the NFPA would not: hang a number on dust control. "It was done to satisfy labor and other political groups who felt that without a definite
figure you do not have a club," explains an industry member on the NAS panel. The panel chose one sixty-fourth of an inch as its "club." The number was a compromise, plain and simple. Some panel members argued for one-hundredth of an inch, based on flame propagation experiments and without regard for economic feasibility. One-eighth of an inch, a figure already used in some proprietary standards, was also suggested. One sixty-fourth was somewhere in between.
OSHA engaged in its own search for an agreeable number. Again, the process was predominately political, not scientific. Under more pressure than NAS to take into account the economic impact of its proposals, OSHA considered a higher range of numbers. The argument was between one sixty-fourth and one-eighth. The former had new-found credibility thanks to the NAS; the latter had historical acceptance. OSHA chose historical acceptance.
The selected number appears to have been favorable to industry. The rejected figure (one sixty-fourth) was, after all, eight times stricter than the one chosen. One-eighth is considered by many to be not only lenient but downright dangerous. An elevator with an eighth of an inch of layered dust, according to an insurance representative, is "a bomb waiting to explode."
But appearances can be deceiving. Industry opposed one-eighth and one sixty-fourth with practically equal vigor. In reality, the disagreement was not about the best action levels; it was about whether to have action levels at all. OSHA wanted a number. Industry did not. "You've got to have a number for it to be enforceable," according to an OSHA official familiar with the agency's bad luck under the general duty clause. For related reasons, industry was opposed to any number. Although it cited the specter of dangerous facilities being in compliance with the rule—those with one-ninth of an inch of dust, for example—industry's real concern was the opposite: seemingly safe facilities being in violation. It is likely that even the best facilities would at some time, in some part of the facility, be in violation of the one-eighth-inch requirement. This would not be a problem if OSHA could be trusted to use good judgment in enforcing the rule. But most elevator operators did not have such confidence. As a result, unreasonable enforcement strategy was of much greater concern than the "false sense of security" some claimed would follow from an action-level approach. The paramount concerns of the National Grain and Feed Association when it later petitioned for a partial stay of the OSHA regulation were the enforcement directives for implementing the housekeeping require-
ments. Unfortunately, the enforcement strategy, including possible methods for heading off unreasonableness, was never seriously discussed during the rulemaking proceedings. Instead, the debate was dominated by a battle of the cost-benefit analysts. The issues they raised were important, but so were many of the ones they ignored.