I received a call today from someone who works for a major ammunition manufacturer. They required anonymity but want the following information to get out to the public.
NSSF is also involved in the fight but doesn’t want to speak out about it either.
It turns out my blog post about OSHA considering a requirement of “no guns at work” policy got their attention.
They referred me to this letter from OSHA as background and proceeded to tell me:
For about two years we’ve been BITTERLY fighting, and ultimately losing, a battle with OSHA over warning labels on ammunition.
They have repeatedly asked something to the effect, “Are you doing this due to pressure from above?” They haven’t been able to get an answer. Everything just seems a little odd about it. My blog post dialed the paranoia up another notch.
It’s a little obscure so you may not be aware that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is prohibited, by law, from regulating firearms and ammunition. This means that, by law, ammunition is not considered a “consumer product”. And some other agencies don’t have authority to regulate them for other reasons.
Ammunition manufacturers have long recognized they could be a target of repressive regulation if the government were given a plausible excuse and hence have been very careful to “police their own”. With no major events attributable to poor quality, indifference to safety, or newsworthy events attributable to ammunition they have managed to avoid undue attention for many decades. The only thing I can recall in my lifetime that put them at serious risk was the big fuss about Black Talon ammo back in the mid-90s. Winchester nipped that in the bud by taking it off the market faster than the tyrants in congress could pass a bill to ban it.
So for decades the ammunition manufacturers have been avoiding undue scrutiny and everyone has been getting along pretty well. Then a couple years ago OSHA approached them and said, in essence, “You need to put warnings on all your products because indoor range employees are at risk from exposure to lead.”
Sure, some indoor ranges have had severe problems with air quality. And some employees and customers have been exposed to too much lead. So one shouldn’t have a problem understanding how OSHA could find a way to poke their nose into the business of indoor ranges. They have never had oversight over ammunition before so how do they imagine they have authority to regulate it now? Well, from reading the letter OSHA sent to SAAMI lawyers ammunition it appears their claim is that ammunition is a “chemical container”. And hence manufacturers much comply with all the nuances of proper labeling of chemicals in their use at the place of business. They can sort of explain this away because ammunition is not, legally, a “consumer product”.
Okay. Fine. Using the proper weasel words the power hungry regulators think they have an angle to harass the ammunition manufacturers. Why not just comply with the labeling requirements and get them off their backs? They are. But it’s not all that easy.
It turns out this is non-trivial for a number of reasons. One reason is that some of the larger manufacturers have many thousands of different packaging configurations. It can cost over a million dollars to change the packaging on everything. Another reason is that the labeling requirements are such that it can’t fit on some of the current packages. A fifty round box of .22 LR ammo is just too small to have the required warnings and still be readable. Another reason it’s a problem is that the environment where the ammo is used varies so much. The same ammo that is perfectly safe for the shooter in a hunting environment can be toxic at an indoor range with inadequate ventilation due to plugged air filters. There are just so many things out of the ammo manufacturers control that the valid safety issues need to be addressed at the location where it is being used.
There are a couple of things that are kind of strange about this whole thing. One is that this person talked to several importers at SHOT show this year. None of them had been contacted by OSHA. Also, there have not been any sanctions or direct threats of sanctions over this. OSHA is providing guidelines and “suggestions” but doesn’t actually claim they have the authority to tell them what to do.
They suspect this may be due to politics rather than a semi-legitimate concern of regulators for the health of range employees. But, they don’t have any hard evidence to support that hypothesis. Do you?