Country Elevators and Distributional Effects
Aside from cost-effectiveness, the standard was controversial for distributional reasons. Industry and OMB argued that the rule dispropor-
tionately affected country elevators. Between 80 and 100 percent of export terminals and inland elevators were thought to be in compliance with most of the OSHA requirements (other than housekeeping). No more than 15 percent of country elevators were. Large facilities generally had dust-control programs; many country elevators did not. As a result, the costs of the proposal fell much more on country elevators than on other facilities. Yet, as OMB argued, the risks were more significant in larger facilities. OMB took the position that "big" facilities should be covered and "small country elevators" should not. OSHA did not want to exclude any facilities. As an OSHA official testified, "When workers are hurt or killed [we] don't particularly care about the size of the facility." Both positions were less than reasonable. OMB wanted to exempt all "country" elevators, even though some were, by any measure, as large as inland terminals and export facilities. But OSHA's position indicated complete disregard for marginal costs and benefits. The cost of bringing the smallest facilities into compliance would be far out of proportion to the losses likely to occur in those facilities.
A political dispute of surprising dimensions took shape. Both the vice president of the United States and the president of the AFL-CIO got involved when OMB held up the rule for months longer than the normal sixty-day review period. The housekeeping provision was the major bone of contention. In a compromise that pleased practically no one, the proposed rule was released for publication when OSHA, at OMB's insistence, added two alternative proposals for housekeeping: sweeping once per shift or installing pneumatic dust control. It was no secret that OSHA still favored the action-level alternative.
The added alternatives did not cool the political debate. The NGFA organized an impressive campaign to flood OSHA with "worksheets" from elevator operators opposed to all three alternatives. A few congressmen held hearings to allow elevator operators in their home districts to complain that "the people who wrote these standards have never been to a country elevator." OSHA continued to take heat from all sides, with the exception of labor. In what was termed an "unusual alliance," the AFL-CIO supported the proposed rule even though it would have preferred an action level stricter than one-eighth of an inch.