Federal safety regulators have redesigned their program to reduce amputations so that it no longer puts as much emphasis on plastics processors.
The change came after industry lobbyists complained that the program unfairly targeted plastics companies.
The new program lists plastics processing as one of at least 10 industries that Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors should focus on to reduce amputations. Previously it ranked plastics at the top of the list of industries that violate safety standards linked to amputations. The OSHA program focuses on SIC code 3089, the largest plastics processing category.
Industry officials argued that OSHA put too much emphasis on the number of violations in a particular industry, which unfairly penalized large industries.
The industry has an amputation rate generally below that for all manufacturing, according to Larry Halprin, an industry lawyer and partner at Keller and Heckman LLP in Washington.
For example, the industry had an estimated amputation rate per 10,000 workers of 3.2, 2.4 and 2.1 in 1996, 1997 and 1998, respectively. Manufacturing as a whole had a rate of 3, 3 and 3.1, respectively, in the same period, according to figures provided by Halprin.
``It seemed unfair to punish an SIC because it was large,'' Halprin said. ``I think getting rid of the erroneous characterization would get rid of a situation where a compliance officer would have a predisposition that this industry has a problem.''
Halprin said he would like to have seen OSHA put even more emphasis on rates, not numbers of violations. OSHA amputation-rate data is based on samples of the affected industry. Halprin said for a smaller SIC code, the sample size is too small to make the rate data reliable.
``The truth is, they don't have the best data they might have in order to target the risk,'' he said.
OSHA officials who wrote the amputation program could not be reached. An OSHA spokesman declined comment on the reason for the rewrite.
Maureen Healey, chief regulatory and state affairs officer for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, said the group raised the issue in a late-December meeting with President Bush's new head of OSHA, John Henshaw. SPI has worked with OSHA staff since then, she said.
When the policy first came out, SPI officials criticized OSHA for not talking enough with SPI beforehand. But Healey praised Henshaw's impact at the agency.
``I think this was rewritten and we had an opportunity to have the good dialogue because of the philosophy and attitude exuded at the agency, directly from what Secretary Henshaw has said,'' she said.
Both Healey and Halprin said it is unusual for OSHA to rewrite directives.
Plastics News correspondent Roger Renstrom contributed to this report.