A Little Shove

In 1996, NMMA joined Miles and ACMA in the fight to change the OSHA regulations. John McKnight, director of environmental and safety compliance for NMMA, joined the NFPA committee with a similar purpose: to make regulations easier for boat manufacturers. “For us, this issue came up where one of our members had a fire inspection and they were cited for non-compliance,” says McKnight. “The old standard was written for auto refinishing places where paint fumes are at an explosive level, whereas boats are not going to reach that level.”

McKnight attributes OSHA’s structure as the reason it is difficult to change regulations. “They’re in a pickle between unions, labor and industry. If they open up a regulation, it’ll get attacked on all levels. Everyone who has a concern will comment and that will be part of public record, which they’ll need to address,” he says. This may be why OSHA hasn’t updated their standards since 1969, whereas NFPA sits down every year and goes through a 3-year cycle of amending standards to address the latest technologies in protection and equipment.

Faced with such a stringent situation, the consortium decided to raise the stakes. They approached Michigan Congresswoman Candace Miller. Her family happened to own a boatbuilding company, so she was sympathetic with the consortium’s needs. She introduced a bill in Congress that would require OSHA to update the fire safety standard. “We got 60 sponsors in the House, and that was a wake-up call to OSHA. They realized this was an issue that would get some political support and decided to consider a change to its rule,” says Schweitzer. “We backed off on legislation because OSHA promised to work with us,” says McKnight.

In follow-up meetings, OSHA had technical questions about the NFPA standard and assurance beyond approval by the NFPA committee that protections provided by the NFPA standard were adequately protective of the industry. Thus, the consortium would have to conduct testing to prove their validity.