The OSHA standard is a classic example of the time-consuming adversary process often attributed to government regulation. Ten years elapsed between the 1977 explosions and the final OSHA rule. The most controversial issue, housekeeping, remains unresolved after a court challenge, even though OSHA spent at least half a million dollars on consulting firms. Hearings held around the country produced volumes of testimony, mostly to the ill will of industry toward OSHA. The standard was loosened somewhat during this arduous administrative process. Whether these changes were a victory for business or a calculated bargaining strategy by OSHA depends on whom you ask. Whatever the reason, OSHA exempted small facilities from some requirements and extended the deadline for compliance with others. OSHA also restricted the final standard to bulk grain-handling facilities, exempting feed mills and other processing facilities included in the original proposal. Most important, OSHA concentrated the housekeeping provisions in three "critical" areas. These changes all made the standard more reasonable.
OSHA's final standard has fewer requirements but packs more punch than NFPA 61B. OSHA stood firm on the action-level approach to housekeeping, resisting strong political pressure to weaken the provision by allowing sweeping once per shift. The agency adopted an action level identical to that used in several proprietary standards, which, if anything, is too lenient (the NAS suggested a more stringent level). The standard is strict enough to cover the worst facilities, however. (These "bad apples" are estimated to constitute 10 to 30 percent of the facilities.) OSHA's housekeeping requirements also have the advantage of being performance-based, allowing firms to determine the most efficient method of compliance. The overall cost of compliance is difficult to estimate, but the range of estimated costs is lower than the range of estimated benefits.
In contrast, the NFPA standard bears out the common conception that private regulation is weaker than its public counterpart. To NFPA's credit, its committee meetings are not plagued by adversity or delays. Committee members are knowledgeable, bringing an array of practical
experience to the task. They meet regularly and adopt revisions in relatively short order. But the outcome (at least in the case of grain elevators) leaves much to be desired. NFPA 61B is relatively spineless. Many important topics, including housekeeping, are glossed over with empty generalities. This situation is due in part to concerns about liability. Seeking to avoid a standard that can be used against business in any post-explosion lawsuits, the Agricultural Dusts committee relegates many issues to the appendix, while making others intentionally vague. The committee also shares the sense that certain "management" issues should not be subject to industrywide regulation. A representative of the Grain Elevator and Processors Society disavows "any kind of declarative 'thou shalt do so-and-so'" standard.
Not all aspects of the NFPA standard are as flimsy as the housekeeping provisions: 61B is fairly strong on basic design issues. Because of the retroactivity clause, however, these provisions apply to fewer facilities every time the standard is upgraded. This technique minimizes political opposition and helps explain why upgrading is possible. Some provisions of general application are also strict, a few to the point of being unreasonable. Provisions such as the UL specifications for equipment used in hazardous locations are far more demanding than is warranted by the circumstances. These provisions require expensive electrical devices where normal equipment would pose no real hazard. Other requirements, aimed at reducing fire hazards more than explosion hazards, may actually be counterproductive—reducing the former at the expense of increasing the latter.
These unexpected tendencies are not major aspects of 61B; they are noteworthy because they are evidence of a "technical" decisionmaking realm characterized by influences and behavior not normally attributed to the private sector. These "technical" decisions reflect the professional norms of engineers. This engineering ethic is conservative in some respects and stringent in others. Engineers are loathe to get involved with political issues, including matters of management prerogative, but they are zealous advocates of safety on occasion. OSHA has no quarrel with the fire safety provisions in NFPA 61B. The extent to which private standards-setters are influenced by regulatory philosophy and professional ethics is explored in detail in chapter 7.