Emissions and Safety Top ITA's Regulatory Agenda

Clean air, lift truck engine emissions and federal regulations affecting operator safety were among the issues addressed at ITA meeting.

Conventional Wisdom

Emissions and Safety Top ITA’s Regulatory Agenda

by Lisa Harrington

Clean air, lift truck engine emissions and federal regulations affecting operator safety were among the issues addressed by the General Engineering Committee at the Industrial Truck Association’s (ITA) meeting in Washington, D.C., last month. The ITA has been working with both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) on several matters, representing the interests of lift truck manufacturers and, by extension, their users. Here’s a look at two key issues.

Engine emissions and clean air regs

Stricter air quality regulations and their impact on industrial truck engine design is an issue of growing concern for lift truck manufacturers and their customers/users. At the moment, the emissions issue is playing out on two fronts, explains Gary Cross, a partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Dunaway & Cross, and the ITA’s legal counsel. On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting the finishing touches on a major regulatory initiative affecting large spark-ignition (SI) engines such as those used in lift trucks. The EPA’s efforts come in response to regulations already promulgated in California by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). CARB came out with new requirements for lift truck engine emissions in 1998 to be phased in in stages between January 1, 2001, and January 1, 2004.

The ITA has been active in commenting on the proposed federal regulations, meeting repeatedly with the EPA on this issue over the course of the past several years. “We anticipate one more meeting with the EPA prior to the September issuance of the proposed new emissions regulation,” says Cross.

The proposed new EPA rule, the attorney explains, will be phased in in two parts. The regulations that take effect on the first date — 2004 — harmonize federal rules with the CARB rules. A second set of more ambitious federal requirements would take effect in 2007. These rules deal primarily with establishing more rigorous testing requirements for large SI engines as well as requiring in-the-field emissions testing.

“Today,” Cross explains, “large SI lift truck engines are subject to ‘steady state’ emissions testing, whereby you run the engine at certain given test points and measure its emissions using a formula that factors in a weight-to-emissions ratio at the given test points. This calculation yields an emissions number in grams per horsepower hour.

“EPA proposes to change this methodology to a much more accurate, stringent and expensive approach called transient testing,” Cross continues. “In transient testing, you capture emissions that occur not just at specific test points but as the engineer moves through a usage sequence. So while you are accelerating you are measuring emissions; while you’re decelerating you’re measuring emissions. This process captures true emissions over the engine’s entire operating cycle. It is a much more accurate test, but it’s also more difficult and requires more expensive testing equipment.”

While ITA has “had plenty of opportunity to provide input” to the EPA in formulating the new federal testing rules, the organization does have some concerns. “We have been handicapped in our efforts to some degree in that the basic data the EPA has been using to develop the new emissions limits were fairly slim and tightly controlled,” Cross says. “We don’t think there has been enough testing of lift trucks to have confidence in the new emissions limits - particularly the ones that the industry will have to meet by 2007. Are the engines EPA tested representative of lift truck fleets? Were the test conditions realistic? We just don’t know at this point.”

The ITA would like to see a lot more test data collected as a basis for such an important regulation. Additionally, the organization is concerned about the cost of implementing the testing program and technology. “The new testing equipment isn’t cheap,” Cross notes. “It typically costs in excess of $100,000 for machines that run the transient tests, plus whatever staffing is required to manage the testing. By 2007, lift truck engines in the field will have to be tested, and the details of that requirement still need to be worked out by manufacturers. It will be the obligation of the manufacturer to collect test data and submit it to the EPA.”

What impact will the new federal regulations have on lift truck manufacturers and users? The cost of the new testing equipment and procedures will affect the cost of a lift truck. “For our folks,” Cross says, “the price of the engine will increase, so the overall cost of the lift truck will go up. There also is some concern — particularly after 2007 — that the types of sophisticated electronic emissions controls required could prove to be a problem in more rugged work environments. The emissions technology may be fine for automobiles but how will it perform in rougher industrial environments? There will be onboard diagnostics systems required and it’s very important that these function properly in any condition so the users suffer no loss of productivity.”

One final concern for users: “The new emissions systems could impact service requirements and frequency, result in warranty disagreements, etc.,” Cross warns. “The more complex the machine the more complicated the commercial relationship gets.

“While EPA has been professional and listened to our concerns, it remains to be seen whether it adopts some of our principal recommendations,” the attorney says. “Mainly, we think it’s too early to specify what kind of emissions performance lift trucks can expect to have after 2007. We’re not concerned with the 2004 effective date because California is starting to require those changes anyway. ”

Body belts and harnesses

Switching to the subject of occupational safety, the ITA has been working with OSHA for two years in an attempt to clarify the agency’s position on the use of body belts vs. body harnesses as fall protection for lift truck operators. OSHA has cited several employers for not providing workers with a full body harness as protection against falls. OSHA initiated a rulemaking in 1990 proposing to require the use of full body harnesses on lift trucks, but never completed the rule. “It’s our understanding, therefore, that there is no formal requirement for full harnesses,” Cross explains. “However, by citing the companies for failing to provide body harnesses, OSHA seems to be enforcing a proposed rule that’s not yet a law.”

The ITA has repeatedly tried to get an answer on this issue from OSHA, but with no success. “Our customers want to know what to do,” the ITA counsel says. “Most companies provide body belts, which we believe the lift truck operator is more likely to use because it’s quicker to put on. We’re concerned that if companies only provide body harnesses, workers won’t use them at all because they are too time-consuming to put on. In that case, employees would be completely unprotected.”

The ITA will continue its efforts to gain clarification from OSHA on this issue. For more information on these and other related issues, contact the ITA at (202) 296-9880.

Harrington is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in logistics and regulatory issues. You can reach her at (410) 819-6700.

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