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Combustible dust rule among dropped regs in Trump deregulation push

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The Trump administration has dropped several potential workplace safety regulations amid the administration’s deregulation push. 

The administration published its Unified Agenda, which reports on regulatory and deregulatory activities under development for the coming year, last week. The agenda lists 14 U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards in either the pre-rule, proposed rule or final rule stages compared to the 30 listed on the Fall 2016 agenda by the Obama administration. 

Notable potential standards in the pre-rule phase removed from the agenda by the Trump administration include combustible dust and noise in construction. 

“OSHA is withdrawing this entry from the agenda at this time due to resource constraints and other priorities,” the administration said in listing these as completed actions. 

The combustible dust standard intended to prevent combustible dust explosions is the most notable drop as it was added to the agenda following a catastrophic sugar dust explosion in Georgia in 2008, Jordan Barab, OSHA’s former deputy assistant secretary under the Obama administration in Washington, D.C, said in his Confined Space safety and health newsletter on Friday. 

The explosion at Imperial Sugar Co.’s Georgia refinery that killed 14 workers and seriously injured 38 others was fueled by massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging building, according to a 2009 report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to require OSHA develop a combustible dust standard, but the Senate never took action on it, Mr. Barab said. 

“Because of the complexity and cost of controlling these explosions, the Obama administration made little progress on this standard over eight years,” he said.

The noise in construction standard was also a notable drop, Mr. Barab said. 

“Construction workers work around a lot of noisy equipment and a significant percentage have suffered from hearing loss over the duration of their careers,” he said. “OSHA has a hearing conservation standard for general industry workers, but nothing equivalent for construction workers despite the fact that new, quieter equipment is available and more effective hearing protection has been developed over recent years.” 

Other pre-rule and proposed rule items moved off the Trump administration’s main regulatory agenda and placed on a long-term actions list include prevention of workplace violence in health care and social assistance, emergency response and preparedness, infectious disease rule and tree care standards. 

Long-term actions are items under development, but for which the agency does not expect to have a regulatory action within the 12 months after publication of the current edition of the Unified Agenda. 

“Of course, the whole subject of ‘What’s in?’ may be academic,” Mr. Barab said. “Given the Trump administration’s executive order requiring two standards to be removed for every one added, it’s unlikely OSHA will be adding any significant new protections for workers if two protections have to be removed in the process.”