The Occupational Safety and Health Administration made another attempt to cut through its own regulatory red tape yesterday by proposing a sweeping simplification of its rules to protect workers from on-the-job fire hazards.
The proposal would eliminate 2,400 separate standards that have been criticized as excessively detailed and rigid, reducing the list of mandatory standards from 400 to 10 pages. Rules covering automatic sprinkler systems, for instance, would be compressed from 169 pages to one page.
The new fire protection standards, which are expected to be adopted next spring, were announced by Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and hailed by President Carter as a "welcom response to my directive that regulatory agencies achieve their objectives with the least inflationary means."
They also drew praise from business and labor representatives, although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said OSHA still has a long way to go in getting rid of "nitpicking" regulations.
Rewriting of the fire rules follows elimination last month of 928 rules conceded by OSHA to be "nitpicking," covering such items as the shape of toilet seats and design of ladders. It signals the start of a geneal stream-lining for all OSHA safety rules, the agency said.
The fire rules changes represent a shift from detailed regulations to "performance standards" aimed at achieving the goal of worker protection by whatever means do the job, Marshall said. For instance, the new rules simply require that fire extinguishers be accessible and effective, with the old design specifications offered as possible guidelines.
"Up to now, the OSHA rulebook wa written like a legal brief, filled with references to the voluntary guidelines of groups like the National Fire Protection Association," many of which were aimed at property protection, said Marshall. The new rules,he added, concentrate on personal safety, leaving property protection to local fire codes.
"We have learned that cumbersome and complicated rules do not protect anyone," added Marshall. "For OSHA regulations to be effective, they must be clear, concise, consistent, simple, tough and enforeable." Nothing in the proposals, he said, weakens any protections.
Jerry L. Purswell, head of OSHA's safety division, said the proposals are likely to be made final in early spring. He said the initial reactions from both business and labor have been positive.
Michael Smith, research director for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the rules changes mark a "significant stop forward" for both plant workers and firefighters.
Christine M. Waisanen, labor relations attorney for the Chamber of Commerce, called the changes "encouraging" and suggested that performance-type standards be used as well by OSHA in controlling health hazards.