OSHA called for comment today on its amendment to the cotton dust standard, which adds an improved method of washing cotton to other procedures already exempted from portions of the rule.
The action follows completion of a two-year review of the standard which validated its continued significance, specifically citing a major reduction of byssinosis among textile workers since the standard''s debut in 1978.
Byssinosis, commonly known as "brown lung" disease, is caused by cotton dust exposure.
"Approximately 12,000 textile workers suffered from brown lung disease in 1978," said OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress. "Last year, that number had been reduced to approximately 700, and we attribute that reduction to the cotton dust standard. Our review of the standard has shown that it not only has helped save lives and reduce illness, but is also cost effective for industry."
"Now, thanks to the research and recommendations by a joining partnership of industry, union and government officials, we''re able to increase the flexibility available to the cotton textile industry by partially exempting from the standard another method of washing raw cotton," Jeffress added.
That partnership, known as the "Task Force for Byssinosis Prevention," researched the batch kier method of washing cotton that eliminates the risk of byssinosis.
The task force includes OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Department of Agriculture, the National Cotton Council, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
The cotton dust standard was first amended in 1985 to give a partial exemption for cotton washed in a continuous flow system.
Washing raw cotton before it is spun and woven eliminates the risk of byssinosis to workers exposed to cotton dust.
The exemption did not include the batch kier method -- in which raw cotton is repeatedly washed in a giant kettle -- since it was not shown at the time to eliminate bioactivity of the cotton dust.
Following research and testing, the joint task force showed that advances made in the batch kier method will protect workers from disease.
Based on their recommendations, OSHA said the method will now be exempted from all but recordkeeping and medical surveillance provisions of the cotton dust standard.
The standard''s revision is being made through the direct final rule approach since the revision has received universal support from labor and industry.
This approach saves regulatory resources over notice and comment rulemaking by eliminating one stage in the rulemaking process.
According to OSHA, if no significant adverse comments are received, the final rule will be effective on April 6, 2001.
However, if OSHA receives significant adversity the agency will proceed with a normal rulemaking on the matter.
by Virginia Sutcliffe