OSHA Forms Alliance with Lube Group


The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association on Monday announced an alliance aimed at promoting practices that avoid health risks posed by lubricants.

Agency and association officials called the program a way for them to pool their resources to help show industry how to use lubes safely.

Workers in manufacturing and other industries are exposed to a wide variety of metalworking fluids and lubricants, said OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw. In many cases, there are measures available to reduce possible health risks from these exposures. Working with the ILMA, we want employers and workers to adopt preventive measures that will reduce those risks.

One union quickly blasted the initiative as inappropriate cooperation between government and business.

OSHA and ILMA officials said the organizations will use a variety of means to disseminate information about how to protect workers from health problems that can be caused by lubricants. For example, industry safety and health professionals will cross-train with staff members in the agencys compliance division. The alliance also calls for development of educational and training programs and presentations at events such as ILMA meetings.

Officials said that Lube Care, the associations lubricant product stewardship program, will play a role in the alliance. The agency and association have yet to set specific goals or decide upon the particular practices that they will promote.

The associations legal counsel, Jeffrey L. Leiter, said ILMA representatives did not completely agree with the title of OSHAs news release on the alliance, which referred to industrial hazards, including metalworking fluids. The United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers of America have a lawsuit pending against the Department of Labor asking that OSHA be forced to lower its current limit on worker exposure to metalworking fluid oil mist. The association submitted arguments on behalf of the agency in the suit, contesting union claims that currently permissible levels of oil mist pose health threats for workers.

Leiter said yesterday that lubricants, like many industrial products, can be dangerous if misused but that the association believes lubricants are safe if used properly. He offered several examples of practices that could be promoted by the alliance: steps to reduce oil mist concentration levels; ways to prevent bacterial contamination of machine lubricants; and handwashing to avoid dermatitis after contact with lubes.

An official with the United Steelworkers said OSHA needs to do more to ensure that manufacturers do not put workers in situations that threaten their health and that it does not suffice to cooperate with industry on programs such as the alliance.

Were all for voluntary programs – I think they can do a lot of good, said Mike Wright, the organizations director of health, safety and environment. But the problem with voluntary programs is that not everyone volunteers. You might reach some of the major manufacturers with a program like this. But there are lots and lots of small shops, even places that employ 100 to 200 people, that wont participate. This kind of program does not substitute for regulation.

Wright also criticized the agency for working with ILMA on the initiative without involving labor.

We certainly would have been interested in working on this issue, and Im insulted that they would negotiate a partnership like this without ever notifying us, let alone inviting us to take part.

Leiter said ILMA is willing to cooperate with unions but that United Auto Workers has taken a confrontational stance to such proposals in the past.

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