When Regulations Take Effect
Finally, public and private standards-setters have disparate views about when standards should take effect. This issue was controversial in all four cases. Government tends to favor the earliest possible effective date, being intolerant of industry claims concerning the feasibility of compliance. Like the stereotypical boss, they want it done yesterday. In contrast, it is outside the realm of possibility for private standards-writers to make standards effective immediately. They tend to allow much more lead time than government. "As long as one company has a device," complains a UL official, "the CPSC is inclined to make it an immediate requirement." The problem, in his view, is twofold. First, the device has not always been evaluated by an independent organization,
so its usefulness is in doubt. Second, "other companies may not even have a prototype," meaning that an immediate requirement would grant a temporary monopoly to one firm. UL takes its cues from the market. Until something is widely available, particularly from more than one supplier, UL is reluctant to require it.
Government sometimes even favors the past over the present—making standards retroactively effective. Most private groups have an explicit policy against adopting retroactive standards. This was the most critical difference between the public and private standards for grain elevators: NFPA 61B applies only to facilities built after the standard was adopted, while the OSHA rule applies retroactively. This means that 61B affects, at most, only a few percent of all grain elevators. Changing that provision would probably have greater safety implications than any other single change in the NFPA standard. But the idea of such a change is outside the realm of conceivable solutions and has never been seriously discussed. Even when NFPA made a rare exception, applying its vague housekeeping requirements retroactively, there was opposition on principle. One committee member recalls that he "didn't want to be on record as requiring this even though [he] agreed with it." His rationale: "Let OSHA do it."