A year later, Miles joined up with ACMA in Washington, D.C. to meet with federal OSHA representatives. “We knew those regulations were overkill for what the composites industry needs,” says John Schweitzer, ACMA’s senior director of government affairs. They were told that the OSHA codes were patterned after the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) NFPA 33. OSHA suggested that Miles join the NFPA’s Committee on Finishing Processes to see if they could strike at the root of the problem, and change the NFPA standard—and that’s exactly what Miles did.

Convincing the Committee

Miles joined the NFPA committee, but his introduction was not without curiosity. “When I first joined the committee and went to my first meeting, I told them I wanted to modify the codeand add something for our industry in order to make it much less restrictive for resin spray operations. That was met with loud laughter,” he recalls.

According to Miles, the biggest resistance came from insurance professionals. “They’re very conservative, probably the most by far on the committee. Their job is loss control, and it’s difficult once a code or standard is in place for insurance guys to be more lenient. They want to go the other way and be more restrictive,” he says.

Miles began his efforts by taking the committee on three field trips to various fiberglass plants to open their eyes to the differences between materials. “It was just a matter of convincing people that polyester resin and styrene and the way we use it is not the same as spray painting,” says Miles.

Committee members soon realized you couldn’t put many composite products, like a 100-foot yacht, in a spray booth and do lamination the same way as painting,” says Miles. They also discovered that tests revealed composite manufacturers were generating 25 percent of the lower flammable level. This is important because OSHA’s criteria state that if you have some concentration which results in ignition, you want to maintain a safety factor to 25 percent below the limit.

A New Standard

Over the next 19 years, Miles struggled to get the NFPA standard changed to accommodate spray resins. He found that there were several hoops to jump through just to get serious consideration.

First, he had to convince the electrical code in NFPA that he had a good argument for not using explosion-proof wiring, even though it was within 20 feet of manufacturing operations. Then, the committee met with the NFPA committee on sprinklers to convince them that the composites industry didn’t need extra hazardous sprinklers, and that it was okay to spray in the open without a certified spray booth.

Getting the rest of the people on the committee on board was a challenge within the challenge. “Initially, 10 percent of the committee agreed with us, then 30 to 40, and eventually when we had the final vote to accept the change, we had nearly a unanimous vote, with only one vote out of 30 against us. That vote was by the chairman of the committee, who was an insurance guy. He explained that because he was in insurance and had to answer to his superiors, he had to vote against it. Otherwise, he would have gone along,” says Miles. The change was accepted as chapter 17 in the NFPA 33 standard.