Just days after withdrawing one controversial proposal, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has sounded retreat on another: a plan to restore more specific reporting of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Work-related MSDs—which covers everything from sprains to repetitive strain injuries—are the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in the United States, accounting for 28% of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work, OSHA says.
New Column on Paperwork
The rule would not have changed reporting requirements for most small businesses. For employers already required to keep a record of workplace injuries and illnesses, including work-related MSDs, on OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), the proposal would have required employers to place a check mark in a new column.
Until 2001, OSHA's injury and illness logs contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included noise and many kinds of MSDs. In 2001, OSHA separated noise and MSDs into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted in 2003 before the provision took effect. This proposal would have restored the column to the Form 300.
The additional reporting was intended “to assist employers and OSHA in better identifying problems in workplaces,” Michaels said.
However, OSHA withdrew the measure in the face of opposition from the business community, saying it would “seek greater input from small businesses on the impact of the proposal.”
The retreat on the MSD proposal was OSHA’s second in one week. It comes amid a wholesale federal review announced Jan. 18 by President Obama to “root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.”
Obama said the goal of the government-wide review was to eliminate regulations “that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”
The day after Obama’s announcement, OSHA withdrew a proposed rule that would have mandated more engineering controls to create quieter workplaces, rather than allowing employers to rely on hearing protection.
As with the MSD rule, Michaels said the noise proposal “requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated.”
The regulatory reversals are drawing cheers from the business community and concern from labor unions.
“This is another positive sign that the agency is listening to the concerns of employers about the economic impact of costly and burdensome requirements,” said Joe Trauger, vice president of human resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.
The withdrawal “is an encouraging signal that the agency is slowing down on excessive government regulations that hinder job creation.”
Trauger said there was “no evidence that this additional reporting column on the MSD form would have enhanced workplace safety.”
Labor sounded a different view.
“We are greatly concerned and dismayed by both of these actions,” Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of health and safety, told thehill.com. “Clearly, the political environment has changed, but the need to protect workers has not.”
She added: “All of these actions are coming because of the November elections and the fierce business opposition to anything. Just because the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups scream doesn't mean there is a legitimate reason to retreat. There are real negative impacts here that can harm workers.”
Michaels said OSHA and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy will jointly host a meeting “to engage and listen to small businesses about” the MSD proposal. Small businesses from around the country will be able to participate through electronic means, such as telephone and/or a Web forum. Details of the meeting will be announced within 30 days, Michaels said.
OSHA is not the only federal agency that has recently changed course on new initiatives. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration have recently deferred or withdrawn proposals.