Defying popular wisdom that paints OSHA as a regulatory monster run amok, a new report contends that the federal agency is actually attempting little and accomplishing even less.
OSHA Inaction: Onerous Requirements Imposed on OSHA Prevent the Agency from Issuing Lifesaving Rules, a new report by the consumer advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen, says that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Obama and George W. Bush Administrations has produced regulations at a slower rate than at any time in its 40-year history.
An Agency Paralyzed
The report says OSHA has produced just one new health or safety standard every 2.5 years since 2001—compared to an average of 2.6 rules per year before that.
The Nixon and Ford administrations were OSHA’s busiest, with an average of 3.8 and 2.5 rules issued each year, respectively, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of the Code of Federal Regulations.
A rule-making process that once took an average of a year or less now drags on more than six years on average, leading to more than 100,000 preventable serious injuries, more than 10,000 cases of preventable illness, and hundreds of preventable fatalities in the past decade, the group contends.
Decades of Delays
For example, the report says:
• A standard for combustible dust has remained on hold for 1 year, 11 months;
• A silica standard has ground on for nearly eight years;
• A beryllium exposure standard has been pending nearly nine years;
• A fall protection standard for walking/working surfaces has languished 21 years; and
• A confined-space standard has been hanging for more than 31 years.
“The requirements on OSHA have nearly paralyzed the agency,” said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen and author of the report. “As a result, OSHA cannot adequately protect workers from toxic chemicals, heat stress, repetitive use injuries, workplace violence and many other occupational dangers.
“Inadequate regulation imposes tremendous costs on workers, who may be forced to pay with their health or even their lives.”
The report was released to coincide with deliberations by the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on a proposed appropriations bill that would further curb OSHA’s rulemaking abilities.
The measure, backed by subcommittee chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT), would bar OSHA from initiating, developing, issuing or enforcing any significant rule without giving the Appropriations Committee 30 days’ notice.
|An appropriations bill led by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) would severely curb OSHA’s authority in FY 2012.|
That provision could impact, for example, OSHA’s silica rule, which was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in February. The OMB’s review period was extended under executive order in May, but the time allotted for review has since run out.
Workers in blasting, stonecutting, tunneling, quarry work and similar jobs are at risk for silica exposure.
“Individual OSHA regulations have been delayed for as long as 31 years, and the agency has been unable to address a wide array of common workplace hazards,” the report says. “Presidential administrations, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have all had a hand in slowing down the rulemaking process.”
Currently, the group says, the business community and its political allies are making federal regulations the “scapegoat for the moribund economy while also ignoring their public safety benefits.”
The reality, on the other hand, is that OSHA’s rulemaking process has not kept pace with the growing number of known hazards in American workplaces, and the agency has not even tried to address many other risks, the report contends.
Fire & Rescue Concepts
|OSHA has dragged its feet on a confined-space standard for 31 years, Public Citizen contends.|
For example, it says, although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified 682 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed, OSHA has no existing regulation for 244 of them. And for 196 others, Public Citizen says, OSHA’s standards offer less protection than NIOSH recommends.
“OSHA has regulated only two chemicals since 1997; industry, meanwhile, develops two new chemicals every day,” the report says.
“Public Citizen calls on Congress to take a fair look at the benefits of health and safety safeguards in the workplace, and to allow OSHA to do its job.”