As workplace safety and health advocates figure out how to fix workplace safety regulations in the wake of the West, Texas explosion, they agree that one focus should be speeding the passage of new rules. Though the notoriously slow rulemaking process wasn’t a factor in the West, Texas explosion, it has been the cause of numerous other workplace fatalities, and could delay efforts to prevent another tragedy like West.
For instance, four years before a tragic explosion in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine as a result of coal dust build-up, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a report recommending that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) write a rule to prevent the accumulation of combustible dust. But it was not until 2009 that OSHA began the process of gathering information to write a rule. Then in 2010, OSHA downgraded the rule to a “long term action,” delaying the draft rule’s required approval by a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel (SBARP). On April 5, 2010, the coal dust at Upper Big Branch sparked, and the resulting explosion killed 29 miners.
Yet the combustible-dust rule is still awaiting SBARP pre-approval.
Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for the watchdog group Public Citizen, says, “Based on previous experience with OSHA, it is likely that it will take 8 to 12 years to issue a final rule for combustible dust.”
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