July 16 , 2007 UPDATE: Labor Department Announces It Will Revise Overreaching OSHA Explosives Rule
A recent proposal for new “explosives safety” regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rightly caused a flurry of concern among gun owners and those in the firearm business. OSHA had set out to make legitimate updates to workplace safety regulations pertaining to explosives; unfortunately, the proposed rule goes far beyond regulating true explosives. The proposed rules include restrictions that very few gun stores, sporting goods stores, shippers, or ammunition dealers could comply with.
The key problem in the proposed rule is that OSHA defines “explosives” to include “black powder, … small arms ammunition, small arms ammunition primers, [and] smokeless propellant.” The proposal defines different classes of “explosives” based on the hazards they present, but then treats ammunition and components the same as the most volatile high explosives, for nearly all purposes.
In fact, industry and military tests have long proved that small arms cartridge pose little hazard in a fire. A classic reference work from the 1940s describes tests in which large quantities of shotgun shells and metallic cartridges were deliberately set on fire. The ammunition generally burned slowly, and cartridges ignited “piece by piece” without throwing fragments more than a few feet. (Julian S. Hatcher, Hatcher’s Notebook 532-33 (2d ed. 1962).)
Because small arms ammunition and components are far less hazardous than high explosives, existing practices for their storage, transportation and sale are very different. But under the proposed rule, a workplace that contains even a handful of small arms cartridges, for any reason, is considered a “facility containing explosives” and therefore subject to many impractical restrictions. Among the many examples:
- No person could carry “firearms, ammunition, or similar articles in facilities containing explosives … except as required for work duties.” This rule would make it impossible to operate any kind of gun store, firing range, or gunsmith shop.
- Employers would have to evacuate all employees when an electrical storm approaches a “facility containing explosives.” This requirement would apply to all “facilities,” from a small country store that stocks a few boxes of hunting ammunition, to the largest mass-merchandise outlet such as Wal-Mart.
- Employers would have to ensure that “no open flames, matches, or spark producing devices are located within 50 feet (15.2 m) of explosives or facilities containing explosives.” Neither small gun stores, nor “big box” retailers have any practical way to enforce this rule; realistically, a person smoking a cigarette outside a large concrete building can’t set fire to ammunition inside the building anyway.
- Vehicles could not be “refueled within 50 feet (15.2 m) of a facility containing “explosives.” Again, many gas stations and convenience stores in rural areas stock small quantities of ammunition; gas pumps outside don’t pose any danger to ammunition in the store.
The proposed rules on storage of small arms ammunition and components would also create problems for retailers.
- The rule would require 25 feet of separation between small arms ammunition and all “flammable liquids, flammable solids, and oxidizing materials.” As an even more impractical alternative, a dealer could construct a one-hour fire barrier wall. Neither should be necessary, given the low level of hazard created by (for instance) a countertop display of gun oil near a supply of rifle or pistol cartridges.
- The rule would also impose stricter limits on storage of smokeless powder than existing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines require. OSHA has presented no evidence that the existing NFPA standard is insufficient to protect workplace safety.
Finally, transportation provisions in the proposed rule would create similar problems. For example, the rule would require shippers to notify “local fire and police departments” before transferring “explosives” between vehicles, and even to notify these agencies about vehicle breakdowns or collisions. A fender-bender while delivering shotgun shells to a gun store hardly justifies this level of government involvement. These provisions do not reflect standard practices in the shipping industry, and many carriers would probably refuse to ship ammunition under these rules.
It’s important to remember this is only a proposed rule, so there’s still time for concerned citizens to speak out. The National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute will all file comments urging a major rewrite of these proposed regulations, based on the severe effect the proposed regulations (if finalized) would have on the availability of ammunition and reloading supplies to safe and responsible shooters.
The public comment period on OSHA’s proposal ends September 10, 2007. To file a comment, or to learn more about the OSHA proposal, go to www.regulations.gov and search for Docket Number OSHA-2007-0032”; you can read OSHA’s proposal and learn how to submit comments electronically, or by fax or mail.
To read a letter from Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and 31 other members of Congress to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao regarding the OSHA proposal, please visit http://www.nraila.org/images/oshaltr.pdf