Sunday evening on 60 Minutes on CBS there was a segment on dust explosions. For the most part, it was an expose on the failings of OSHA. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that OSHA is lead by a bunch of dullards who are under the enchantment of an administration reluctant to impose new regulations on industry.

The thrust of the program was that OSHA is completely unable to recognize incipient dust hazards on their site inspections, partly due to a lack of training and partly due to a slack-jawed lack of direction.  It wasn’t pretty.

As a dramatic backdrop, numerous instances of major plant explosions were trotted out for all to see. The message is that plants keep blowing up from dust explosions, but OSHA isn’t holding companies to higher standards- because there aren’t any.  The Secretary cited OSHA’s housekeeping requirement as broad enough to cover the dust explosion scenario. It was less than convincing.

I couldn’t help but notice that the subtext was that there can only be safety if more regulations were written. I didn’t see any company officials grilled in the same manner that the Secretary was grilled.

In fairness to OSHA, someone needed to clarify just what that agency is free to do in regard to rule making and what must be done by the Congress.  I know there are smart people in OSHA, but being federal employees, there is little incentive to champion new regulations. Between institutional inertia, lobbyists, and an antagonistic executive branch, who wants to charge ahead of the parade on new rules?