And It Doesnt Do Much for Mine Safety, Either


With an emotional Congressional hearing scheduled for this morning, featuring family members of miners killed in Augusts Crandall Canyon, Utah, mine collapse, sympathy may push the U.S. House of Representatives to move forward on legislation that could cause unintended damage to the metalworking fluid industry, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association warns.

Earlier this week ILMA, based in Alexandria, Va., urged its members to contact their legislators to oppose a provision in H.R. 2769, the Miner Health Enhancement Act of 2007, that would allow the U.S. Dept. of Labor to bypass the regulatory process in adopting mandatory worker health and safety standards.

Concerned that federal standards for mine workers are seriously out of date and that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (a parallel agency to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has not acted with sufficient speed, the bills sponsors proposed steps they hoped would streamline the standard-setting process.

The hot-button provision for ILMA is the bills air contaminants requirement that all current and future National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Limits for chemical and other hazards to miners be automatically adopted by the MSHA as mandatory Permissible Exposure Limits.

In December 1993 the metalworking fluid industry was galvanized by a UAW petition to OSHA, demanding new standards to protect workers from alleged health effects of exposure to metalworking fluids, including reduction of OSHAs long-time Permissible Exposure Limit for oil mist from 5milligrams per cubic meterto 0.5 mg/m3. In the following years, government, unions, industry and academia wrangled over the complex issues. In 1997, OSHA formed a Metalworking Fluids Standards Advisory Committee and in 2001 published a best practices guide, ultimately rejecting the UAW petition in 2003.

However, in January 1998, NIOSH, part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, issued a Recommended Exposure Limit: that exposures to metalworking fluid aerosols be limited to 0.5 mg/m3 for total particulate mass as a time-weighted average concentration for up to 10 hours per day during a 40-hour work week.

The prospect that this NIOSH REL, strongly supported by the UAW and opposed by ILMA, could become a mandatory workplace limit without due process and despite the decade-long saga that ended with OSHAs decision not to regulate metalworking fluids, has some ILMA members fuming.

Were concerned, ILMA Counsel Jeffrey Leiter said. While the legislation now before Congress only applies to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, not to OSHA, it would be precedent setting. The bill is simple. NIOSH RELs will become mandatory PELs in 30 days. MSHA is a parallel agency to OSHA, and organized labor could insist on the same process for OSHA.

When NIOSH developed its 0.5 mg/m3 REL for metalworking fluid aerosols, we felt there was more politics than science in the process, Leiter said.

In the past, said Eugene White of Milacron Marketing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, there has been a rush to judgment in some cases. OSHA needs to be deliberate in adopting any RELs or TLVs [Threshold Limit Values – exposure limits from the private-sector ACGIH]. PELs have regulatory teeth, and 0.5 is a very stringent limit and hard to measure.

For Catherine Novak at Eastern Oil Co., Pontiac, Mich., absence of scientific data is the issue. In the past weve rallied when there was a lack of substantive scientific support to reduce mist to unmonitorable limits. And for a small company, [if RELs should automatically become PELs], theres no say in the matter.

ILMA is not alone in objecting to the NIOSH REL-to-PEL section of the mine bill. Theres emotional appeal to the mine legislation, Leiter noted, and the bill may move to mark-up after [todays] hearing. But others are also working the issue. NAM [the National Association of Manufacturers] will likely take the lead in opposition to the provision.

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