OSHA is going after ammo manufacturers

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?


36 thoughts on “OSHA is going after ammo manufacturers

  1. friends:

    we have the guns. it may come down to the point that unless we are willing to use them, we will loose them. i think that if we want to keep them, we should use them to assert our right & liberty.

    simple as that.

    john jay

  2. OSHA is providing guidelines and “suggestions” but doesn’t actually claim they have the authority to tell them what to do.

    That’s because they don’t have the authority.
    The letter mentions that this is a ‘recommendation’, and I call it a ‘trial balloon’, specifically, and only, from Mr. Perry, seeing if anyone will accede to the implied demand.

    If the ammo industry does, he puts a feather in his cap.

    If the industry call ‘Foul!’ loud enough to their particular Representatives and Senators (with appropriate donations to their re-election campaign funds), Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels will profusely apologize for the overstep, the ‘plan’ will be put back on the shelf, and Mr. Perry will probably ‘decide’ to leave government service for the private sector.

    • Unless he can find enough support for him to go forward with his demonization program and the ammunition exemption may be history.

    • The problem becomes that those “guidelines” and “suggestions” turn into “evidence” when a lawyer files a lawsuit in a few dozen jurisdictions claiming reckless negligence because they weren’t followed and his “client” was harmed as a result. Even if the ammo makers “win”, they lose. Process = punishment.

      • My standing suggestion is a ‘loser-pays’ system where the loser and the loser’s lawyer split paying the winner’s costs 50/50.

  3. Problem will also be that retailers will have to comply with the regulation and be certified/licensed/regulated as being able to handle “chemicals”.

    Huge burden.

  4. Also, this may be a way to end mail delivery of ammo… if not end it, significantly increase the costs associated with it.

  5. The range I worked at had a complaint about lead levels from a former employee. I had just started working part time and had experience doing training for both OSHA and EPA emergency response teams.
    1) The OSHA inspectors were all shooters. They were just interested in getting valid measurements. They were happy to be on a range.
    2) We had set up a documented cleaning , training and monitoring. We found lead levels were never high, but there was higher levels on the surfaces on the benches. They were wiped clean every 2 days as part of a new SOP. Range floor was vacuumed weekly.
    3) OSHA was only interested in the exposure of employees. Customers were never in the bays for more than an two hours and neither customers or employees came anywhere near the TWA lead.

    By the way the old FBI range was a disaster due to poor ventilation, heavy use and full auto fire.

  6. Every governmental agency, especially the three letter alphabet beasts have a voracious appetite for new things to regulate to sustain or increase their power.

    It is time for a new administration to take the axe literally to the funding and scope of so many of them.

    My plan is simple. Congress should go back and fund all these agencies to the level they got in 1990, or if generous, 2000. They would have to cut their activities and fire staff. Sounds about right.

    • Good idea. Except that I would set the funding level to that of 1800, not 2000.

      • Depending on the cut point, it could have the beneficial effect that if an agency did not exist in 2000 (or 1990 or 1800) then it would have NO budget. That would be sweet. No need for a bill to disband any new rogue agency; just zero out the budget and it works itself out. (Think of the scene in Office Space).

        • Yes, that’s precisely why I suggested 1800. At that point, the letter of the Constitution was still fairly well adhered to. (Well, with the possible exception of the Louisiana Purchase, which prompted Jefferson to muse about the Constitutional limitations on treaty power without actually obeying the limitations that he concluded are there.)

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  9. Maybe OSHA could help us out by asking for mufflers to be legalized. Instead some suckup is getting his nose brown in the madarins hinie.

    • They are legal (federally) just hard to get.

      Legality of suppressors is a state issue, and there are a bunch of those. I’d start there before changing their federal classification–but I’m probably biased because I live where all the fun things are banned (no AWB tho, so that’s cool I guess. But I would have to get a license from the sheriff if I wanted to purchase a handgun. Which the sheriff has to give me. But the office doesn’t issue them except for a few hours twice a week while I’m at work. So there’s that. Also I don’t want to pay money to get on the list which has already been used to justify a SWAT raid on someone. In this state. Over marijuana that apparently never existed.)

  10. So if ammunition is a chemical container, does that open up reloading ammunition to some sort of improper handling / usage / licensing of chemicals regulation?

    • Yes. I agree. But the questions are, “Can’t they solve the issue by working with the ranges? Why go after the ammunition manufactures? Isn’t that regulatory overreach?”

      • They view it as a feature, not a bug.

        We have to get our regulatory agencies under control. They are not accountable, they operate on the edge of their authority (or beyond), and are highly politicized.

        Finally, your guilt is assumed with their moving goal posts for regulation and so complying within the law (actually with their capricious regulations) is difficult. Think of the play that they just tried with green tip ammunition. Bastards!

  11. As much as anything else, this is a matter of who is more intimidated than whom. In any authoritarian system, that becomes the primary issue.

    We of course have principles (preferably) and that alone can be pretty intimidating to an authoritarian, but it is a very different kind of intimidation than the one he offers. It (the principled stand) is the one thing, in fact, that the authoritarian fears and hates more than anything. It is his kryptonite.

  12. To think that this has anything to do with occupational health or safety is to miss the point.

    This is another example of using federal departments, bureaus, services and administrations as political weapons when the legislative and judicial angles have failed to achieve the desired results. It’s also a sign of desperation, and a desperate socialist (Progressive, authoritarian, et al) is on the brink of going insane, publicly. If we stand firm, we can look forward to watching them self destruct.

    Who brought the popcorn?

  13. Not sure why it amuses me, that I still have on hand a box of Black Talon ammo, but it does. Possibly, anything that gives me the feeling of sticking my tongue out at authority is an enjoyment.

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  15. OSHA should endorse deregulation of suppressors; the most important improvement one could make that is actually related to occupation and safety. Perhaps that’s what poster above meant when he said “mufflers”??

  16. Instalanch.

    Nearly 5k page views today. More than 4,000 from instapundit with direct links in to this story.

    Howdy! Pretty nice place we have here. Feel free to poke around and stay a while reading about this and that.

  17. I am an occupational safety professional with a master’s degree and almost a decade in the field. When I read this article, I was thinking – no way they would put them under the hazard communication standard.

    Sure enough, they are classifying it under 1910.1200. This is patently ridiculous. First of all, the main hazard they are trying to prevent is not present at manufacture. The lead-tainted gunsmoke is not a directly predictable result of the bullet. Not only would the bullet need a set of signal words (DANGER! Harmful if Swallowed. May Cause Reproductive Harm, etc) as well as for the smoke, which is of uncertain composition and concentration. It’s like regulating gasoline or diesel based on its smoke when burned.

    Second, the purpose of a bullet is to cause injury to an enemy or wildlife. It’s similar to grenades and other munitions. Calling it a chemical container is such an incredible stretch that it boggles the mind. The standard (or the European GHS it is based on) is not designed for ammo, not even slightly.

    Finally, the labeling and and safety data sheet rules are crazy enough for chemicals. For ammo, you are looking at a nightmare. Commercial firearms users would need to label all detachable magazines. The record keeping would be legendary, and the cost to redo the packaging would be tremendous. All this to try and stuff square pegs into round holes, and not be as likely to reduce the hazard to the ranger workers as a simple modification of the lead standard, and encouraging the kind of basic labeling listed in the OSHA letter. A performance-based standard requiring lead air monitoring, dust control, and a basic written plan would protect workers much, much more effectively.

    I can put a few concerns to rest, though. Shipping ammo is entirely under the HazMat code and PHMSA in the DOT, and would not change regardless of OSHA. Similarly, I don’t see private reloading going under OSHA, and bullets as chemical containers won’t change that. Just as long the gunpowder doesn’t become a major fire / explosion hazard. OSHA only cares about workers at work, not people

    • I think you’re making an assumption here: that OSHA is acting in good faith here. That seems like an unwarranted assumption. It’s a bit like assuming that the CDC is a health and disease prevention organization, even when they act as gun haters’ shills.

  18. — “You need to put warnings on all your products because indoor range employees are at risk from exposure to lead.” —

    Time was, this would have been dismissed as illegitimate a priori under the doctrines of assumption of risk and informed consent. Sadly, we live in an era where boxes of toothpicks must bear warning labels that say “Do not take internally.”

    O tempora, o mores!

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