Volume 46, Issue 4 - May 2007

In the News
OSHSB Reform
Changes for Dust Collection 

California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) recently proposed changing its General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) regarding dust collectors used in the woodworking industry. 

The proposal aims to align current regulations with the newest edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard, as NFPA’s Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Explosions in Wood Processing and Woodworking Facilities has reversed the prohibition on indoor dust collection equipment.

Existing requirements call for dust collectors used for combustible dusts that present an explosion hazard to be located outdoors or in detached rooms of fire-resistant construction. These units are also supposed to be provided with adequate explosion vents, with the exception of liquid spray-type collectors. The NFPA 2002 standard recognizes that small- and medium-sized woodworking operations, who may not be able to afford a centralized cyclone or baghouse system, have begun to use small, inexpensive “enclosureless bag-type collectors” (EDCs). The proposal would allow use of these less expensive EDCs.

Welcome DecisionChuck Parsons, owner of AireWorks, a dust collection equipment manufacturer in Huntley, Ill., says a large number of his company’s collectors end up in California and that enclosureless, bag-type collectors were previously given a bad wrap. “I think that these units weren’t allowed in the past because of a big misunderstanding about the potential for explosion. The truth is, an open bag system does not have an explosion potential, because the filter, the bag itself, will split open and it doesn’t create projectiles. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fire, but an explosion isn’t likely,” Parsons says. “A bag collector without an enclosure is actually a safer unit.”

Dean Fryer, with the California Department of Industrial Relations, admits that regulations are catching up to current technologies. “This just allows smaller shops to use more current tools and technologies while legally being within the parameters of the safety and health regulations,” Fryer says.

In the Dark
When numerous California-based companies were contacted for comment, including dust collector manufacturers and shops currently using dust collection systems, many were not aware of the proposed changes. Jeffrey Meyer, president of Meyer Moulding & Millwork Inc. in Modesto, Calif., said he had heard nothing of the matter.

Don Mays, operations manager for a California branch of ECMD Inc., a building products provider headquartered in North Wilkesboro, N.C., said he hadn’t heard of the issue either, but says, “I do have a cyclone-type dust system and I maintain my air permit. If the new proposal says that it has to be a bag-type system it will be very costly to convert from a cyclone-type system to a bag-type.”

But the Department of Industrial Relations says that won’t be necessary.

“Those who already have a factory or production in place where they’re doing woodworking and they already have a ventilation system in place are fine. We’re not saying there are any necessary changes,” Fryer assures.

The proposed changes could make things easier for new companies, allowing them to install lesser expensive equipment. And it may give companies that are a step ahead of the regulations a sigh of relief. “I think it’s probably true that some smaller companies are already using these types of systems, out of regulation, and following the changes, they would be within regulations,” Fryer says.

Mays actually says a bag system is more costly to operate. But Jeff Wedge, general manager of Hampton Distribution, a wholesale distributor in Sacramento, Calif., says, “We hang 200 doors per day on four Norfield Magnum lines. This type of collection is extremely efficient and cost-effective.”

What is Classified As a Dust Collector?
As defined by OSHSB, a dust collector is the part of the dust collection system where material is separated from the air stream and consolidated. Dust collectors include conventional, solid-walled cyclones and baghouses and enclosureless bag-type units.

There are five conditions for a dust collector to be considered an “enclosureless bag-type dust collector,” and conditions will ensure that these types of collectors are not enclosed in a manner that creates an explosion hazard.

Indoor use of EDC’s would be allowed under the following conditions: 
• The collector is used only for dust pickup from woodworking or wood processing machinery (i.e., no metal grinders, painting and finishing operations or other operations that may increase the risk of fire or explosion);
• The collector is not used on sanders or abrasive planers having mechanical feeds;
• Each collector has a maximum air-handling capacity of 5000 cfm or less;
• Fan motors are of TEFC design;
• Collected dust is removed daily or more frequently;
• Any collector of greater than 1500 cfm is located at least 20 feet from the nearest emergency egress route or work station; and
• Multiple collectors each greater than 1500 cfm located in the same room are separated by at least 20 feet.

Further conditions include: flexible hoses used to convey air constructed of metal or other conductive materials must be grounded; when a dust collection system is used, the guard and hood must be constructed of material per code 3943; and there must be a provision in all operations for the removal of refuse when refuse is too heavy, bulky or otherwise unsuitable to be handled by the dust collection systems.


H.R. 1696: Who Wins?
The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 1696) could allow employees to form unions simply by signing authorization cards. Currently unions can only be created through supervised election. 

This legislation, which would also establish harsher penalties for employers found guilty of violating employee rights when they seek to form a union, was passed in the House of Representatives March 1, 2007, after being introduced April 19, 2005. 

“Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if a majority of workers in a workplace sign cards authorizing a union, then the workers would get a union,” says Congressman George Miller (D-California, 7th District) in a recent press release.

Up for Investigation
If passed, the act would allow the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to investigate any petition that alleges a majority of employees in a “unit” wish to be represented by a labor organization. Should the investigation show that these employees signed authorizations, and no other individual or labor organization is currently recognized, the board would certify the organization as representative.

When this bill was introduced, a company had the legal ability to allow workers union representation if a majority of potential members were in support. If that allowance wasn’t willfully put forward, a group of workers wanting to unionize had to sign authorization cards to indicate that fact and, in the event that 30 percent of potential members signed cards, the NLRB would schedule a supervised election. Supporters of the bill suggest that while an election is being established, management would have time to launch a negative campaign and may even threaten workers. To make matters worse, Congressman Miller says employers have the ability to strong-arm employees into an NLRB election process—a process in which he says the deck is stacked heavily against pro-union workers. The Employee Free Choice Act would take away a company’s ability to force an election process.

Robert Andrews (D-NJ), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, shares the same concern. “While most employers are not bad actors, I do believe the current structure of the representation process perpetuates the ability of a few employers to coerce employees without consequence. Restoring workers’ free choice, through the Employee Free Choice Act, is the only way to ensure that they have the right to bargain for fair wages and benefits,” he says.

The Strong Arm
Not everyone is excited about the possibilities.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) sees it as quite the opposite and recently released a statement calling the bill “ill-conceived.”

ABC says this process will allow for undue pressure on voting employees, while the current election process, forced or not, allows for privacy. 

In addition to allowing union formation through majority sign-up, the Employee Free Choice Act would: stiffen penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate for union activity during an organizing; require employers to back pay workers whom they are found to have illegally fired; and allow employers and newly-formed unions to refer bargaining to mediation, and binding arbitration if necessary, when they are not able to agree on a first contract after 90 days.

As of press time, this bill still has to face the Senate and a president that previously assured his veto. 

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