Several months ago, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao published the Departmentâs regulatory agenda.Â This document lists all of the regulations the Department âexpects to have under active consideration for promulgation, proposal, or review during the coming 1-year period.âÂ The notice published in the December 12, 2006 Federal Register (71 FR 73539) stated that the âagencies have carefully assessed their available resourcesâ and the agenda reflects âwhat they can accomplish in the next 12 months.âÂ
Does thisÂ mean that OSHA’s list is more realisticÂ thanÂ previous year’s agendas? If so, the target datesÂ will help us guage OSHA’s progress on these important rules.Â Now that 3 months have passed since the agenda was published, letâs see howÂ OSHA is doing.
Update to Electrical Standards
The Secretaryâs December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that this rule would be completedÂ in January 2007.Â A final rule wasÂ published on February 14, 2007.
Confined Space at Construction Sites
The Secretaryâs December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that a proposed rule would be issued in February 2007, but theÂ Department has not yet sent a proposal toÂ OMBÂ 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 becomingÂ trapped or asphyxiated in confined spaces like manholes, pipe assemblies or ventilation ducts.Â Since 1993, an OSHA rule has been in placeÂ to protect workers at industrial sites from confined space hazards, but the rule does not cover construction workers.Â As part of a settlement agreement with the United Steelworkers, OSHA promised to promulgate a construction-specific confined space rule.Â In 2003, the agency completed theÂ mandatory SBREFA panel review* but now the rule seems stalled.
The Secretaryâs December 2006 regulatory agenda indicated that a report from the SBREFA panel will be completed in March 2007.Â Yet, OSHAâs docket doesn’t include aÂ single document related to the SBREFA process, andÂ theÂ Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy says the process has not yet begun.Â Â
An estimated 130,000 workers in the U.S. are exposed to beryllium.Â This lightweight metal is a human carcinogen (designated as such by theÂ International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program) and exposure to even small doses of berylliumÂ can causeÂ an immune-system activated sensitization and a debilitating inflammatory lung condition (chronic beryllium disease).Â
The Secretary’s December 2006 regulatory agenda indicatedÂ that the external peer review of OSHA’sÂ risk assessment would be completed by April 2007.Â Â
I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.Â
Back in 2004, OSHA’s regulatory agenda indicated that the peer review of the risk assessment would be complete in February 2005.Â They evenÂ set a target date of April 2006 for publishing a proposed rule.Â But, the long wait for a comprehensiveÂ rule to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica drags on.Â Workers who are overexposed to respirable crystalline silica are at increased risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer, renal disease and autoimmune disorders.Â “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.Â The law was part ofÂ the GOP’s Contract with America” legislative package,Â passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on March 29, 1996.Â Under one provision of SBREFA, when OSHA (andÂ 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 toÂ review the rule and recommend changes to it.Â Â Members of this review panelÂ are given this opportunity to influence the rule before any other member of the public andÂ before the formalÂ public notice-and-comment period begins.Â (OSHA’s SBREFA info)