March 12, 2007 The Pump Handle 2Comment

Several months ago, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao published the Department’s regulatory agenda.  This document lists all of the regulations the Department “expects to have under active consideration for promulgation, proposal, or review during the coming 1-year period.”  The notice published in the December 12, 2006 Federal Register (71 FR 73539) stated that the “agencies have carefully assessed their available resources” and the agenda reflects “what they can accomplish in the next 12 months.” 

Does this mean that OSHA’s list is more realistic than previous year’s agendas? If so, the target dates will help us guage OSHA’s progress on these important rules.  Now that 3 months have passed since the agenda was published, let’s see how OSHA is doing.

Update to Electrical Standards

The Secretary’s December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that this rule would be completed in January 2007.  A final rule was published on February 14, 2007.

Confined Space at Construction Sites

The Secretary’s December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that a proposed rule would be issued in February 2007, but the Department has not yet sent a proposal to OMB for review. (You can check here to see which rules are being reviewed by OMB.)

This rule is critically important because scores of workers die annually on constructions sites after becoming trapped or asphyxiated in confined spaces like manholes, pipe assemblies or ventilation ducts.  Since 1993, an OSHA rule has been in place to protect workers at industrial sites from confined space hazards, but the rule does not cover construction workers.  As part of a settlement agreement with the United Steelworkers, OSHA promised to promulgate a construction-specific confined space rule.  In 2003, the agency completed the mandatory SBREFA panel review* but now the rule seems stalled.


The Secretary’s December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that a report from the SBREFA panel will be completed in March 2007.  Yet, OSHA’s docket doesn’t include a single document related to the SBREFA process, and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy says the process has not yet begun.  

An estimated 130,000 workers in the U.S. are exposed to beryllium.  This lightweight metal is a human carcinogen (designated as such by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program) and exposure to even small doses of beryllium can cause an immune-system activated sensitization and a debilitating inflammatory lung condition (chronic beryllium disease). 

Crystalline Silica

The Secretary’s December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated  that the external peer review of OSHA’s risk assessment would be completed by April 2007.  

I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one. 

Back in 2004, OSHA’s regulatory agenda indicated that the peer review of the risk assessment would be complete in February 2005.  They even set a target date of April 2006 for publishing a proposed rule.  But, the long wait for a comprehensive rule to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica drags on.  Workers who are overexposed to respirable crystalline silica are at increased risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer, renal disease and autoimmune disorders.  “We know the methods of control–let us put them into practice.” (Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, c.1940)

*SBREFA is the acronym for the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act of 1996.  The law was part of the GOP’s Contract with America” legislative package, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on March 29, 1996.  Under one provision of SBREFA, when OSHA (and EPA) are preparing to publish a proposed rule, they must coordinate with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to convene a panel of small businesses to review the rule and recommend changes to it.  Members of this review panel are given this opportunity to influence the rule before any other member of the public and before the formal public notice-and-comment period begins.  (OSHA’s SBREFA info)

2 thoughts on “OSHA’s Progress on Workplace Standards

  1. Dear Sir/s,

    Can you please confirm if there has been any developments
    whatsoever in relation to the SBREFA involvement with Beryllium
    andsany new Occupational Exposure Standard?

    kind regards

    John Edwards Grad.Dip.OHM (Occup Hazard Mgmt)
    RetSafety Mgr TAA & Australian Airlines,
    Chair Safety Institute of Australia Beryllium Special Interest Group

  2. As of April 19, 2007, the OSHA docket does not contain any documents indicating that the SBREFA process has begun on the beryllium proposed rule.

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