The composites industry has had to deal with its status as a relative upstart since the 1960s. It’s bad enough to fight perceptions against materials such as metal and steel that have been around for centuries. But to try and change regulation in your favor? That is indeed a Herculean task.

Yet Lowell Miles, founder and CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Miles Fiberglass & Composites, has made it a mission to do just that. He has spearheaded a code-changing mission that has gone on for nearly three decades. The goal: to protect composites manufacturers from aggressive regulation concerning the risk of fire and explosion in composite resin and gel coat spray operations

And with help from the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and Congress, rewards are finally starting to come.

A Set of Problems

In 1983, Miles received a routine visit from the Occupational Safety and Hazard Agency (OSHA). They told him, in essence, that he needed to comply with the OSHA spray finishing code because resin spray operations use, well, sprays. The problem with that request was that the code, designed for paint spray applications, restricts resin spray operations for reasons that do not apply to resins, only paints. “We thought it was a crazy request because we don’t have explosive atmospheres anywhere near what the standard mandates. We needed to do something to protect ourselves,” he says.

Miles filed for an informal hearing and brought along other people that also had fiberglass shops. The group sat down with Darrell Douglas, head of Oregon OSHA at the time, and tried to convince him that it was unnecessary for composite manufacturers to comply with the paint spray finishing code because of the different materials used. “He said he agreed with us, but that regardless, we had to comply with federal OSHA. OSHA standards require that we could be more restrictive but not less restrictive,” says Miles.

Douglas’s idea of a compromise was to implement a statewide leniency, but renege and enforce the limits if the federal officers intervened. This did not sit well with Miles, and he knew he needed to try and get the OSHA standard itself changed.