ASSE Questions Need for New MSHA Rule

ASSE is questioning the need for a new MSHA rule involving Hazard Communications, the HazCom Interim Final Rule.

In comments sent to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Director Dr. Carol Jones questioned the need for a new rule involving Hazard Communications, the MSHA HazCom Interim Final Rule.

ASSE also questioned the absence of recognizing existing safety standards and initiatives that already address this issue worldwide and the exclusion of safety professionals in some areas of the overall rule.

"ASSE agrees that there is a major need to protect workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals," said ASSE President Samuel Gualardo. "We have historically been a supporter of the direction mandated in OSHA''s Hazard Communication Standard. However, just days before MSHA published its HazCom standard, another federal mining standard addressing similar issues went into effect. Many ASSE members from the mining industry questioned whether this proposed rule is superfluous."

Currently, MSHA has several standards that parallel the requirements in the new HazCom standard published early last month, including mandatory training for miners and contractors; and the metal/nonmetal mining safety standards published at 30 CFR 56/57.16004, 56/57.20011 and 56/57.20012.

ASSE noted in particular, the new Part 46 training rule, covering 10,000 mines in the surface nonmetal mining sector that just took effect on Oct. 2, 2000 -- the day before MSHA published its HazCom standard.

The association believes it is premature to assume that the Part 46 training rule cannot be effective in preventing the types of injuries described in the HazCom rule''s preamble.

"While ASSE strongly supports the tenets of hazard communication, we are also concerned that MSHA''s interim final rule may not be appropriate at this time," said Gualardo. "It may make sense for MSHA to withdraw this rule in the short-term, in order to consider and take appropriate action in light of the Global Harmonization System initiative. MSHA should be part of this international initiative which is under the stewardship of OSHA and has participation for agencies such as EPA, FDA and others."

"Another important concern is that safety professionals will be responsible for implementing the MSHA rule as well as any other subsequent HazCom rules and standards, and that these could be inconsistent with one another," continued Gualardo. "Confusion and unnecessary costs could result, and the possibility of compromising the safety of the workers."

With MSHA and OSHA both under the Department of Labor, ASSE is recommending that the agencies develop one comprehensive HazCom document.

ASSE also questioned why MSHA overlooked several safety standards that directly pertain to this issue, which were left out of the published rule.

These standards include the existing American National Standard Z535 series; the voluntary national consensus standards required by OMB A-119 and Public Law 104-113; and the existing American National Standard, ANSI Z-400.1-1993 Hazardous Industrial Chemicals -- Material Safety Data Sheets.

"ASSE calls on MSHA to support the recognition of applicable voluntary national consensus standards because such utilization will be of increased importance to the United States as it moves towards a global economy," said Gualardo.

ASSE strongly objected to MSHA''s inclusion of industrial hygienists, while excluding safety professionals, from the definition of a Health Professional in the rule.

ASSE said safety professionals must be included because they serve as consultants to mining companies, labor organizations and health facilities which could be impacted by the rule.

"MSHA misses the point that the safety professional may not be on staff and consequently would need access to information in the same manner as that given to industrial hygienists and the other safety and health-related disciplines," said Gualardo. "We suggest that MSHA recognize safety professionals registered with the ASSE''s National Registry as being competent to participate in the trade secrets aspects of any HazCom Standard. We think such recognition will enhance safety professional competence and can serve as a model for sound future public policy."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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