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Textile manufacturers that use an improved method of washing raw cotton to eliminate the risk of byssinosis are now exempt from all provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cotton dust standard except the requirements for record keeping and medical surveillance.
On Dec. 7, 2000, OSHA published a direct final rule amending its cotton dust standard to include the "batch kier" cotton washing method among other procedures exempted from portions of the cotton dust standard. The agency announced that if no adverse comments were received within 60 days, the changes would take effect April 6, 2001. No comments were received.
In partially exempting the batch kier method from the cotton dust standard, OSHA was following the recommendations of the Task Force for Byssinosis Prevention. The task force includes OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Department of Agriculture, the National Cotton Council, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, and the Union of Needle-trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees.
OSHA’s 1978 cotton dust standard was amended in 1985 to partially exempt cotton washed in a continuous flow system. Washing raw cotton before it is spun and woven eliminates the risk of byssinosis, commonly known as "brown lung," for workers exposed to cotton dust. The earlier exemptions did not apply to the batch kier method, in which raw cotton is repeatedly washed in a giant kettle, since this method had not been demonstrated to eliminate the bioactivity of cotton dust. More recent research and testing evaluated by the task force indicated that advances made in the batch kier method are sufficient to protect workers against byssinosis.
OSHA chose the direct rule approach since the changes had received universal support from labor and industry. This procedure saves regulatory resources by eliminating the notice and comment portion of the rulemaking, which is unnecessary if there is no opposition to a rule.