May 3, 2007 The Pump Handle 3Comment

During the April 24, 2007 House Workforce Protection Subcommittee hearing, “”Have OSHA Standards Kept up with Workplace Hazards?”, the Bush administration’s record in promulgating occupational safety and health standards was a hot topic. (“With all of those [rules] that have been cast aside,” asked an indignant Congressman Hare (D-IL)— “what’s OSHA been doing?”)

            Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) stated: “To date, the Bush administration has implemented 22 standards, with more than year left in the term,” and that therefore, “the pace of regulatory rulemaking has not changed” since Bush took office. This caught my attention. 22 rules?

I never heard anything about 22 rules coming out of OSHA in recent years! I phoned Congressman Wilson’s press office, which recommended I check the Federal Register. Unimpressed, I called OSHA and asked if they could send me a list of the standards promulgated since Bush took office. 10 minutes later, the pages began to slide out of the fax machine. Sure enough, 22 standards. (See List of OSHA Standards through April 2007, provided by OSHA’s Office of Communications.) I counted them myself.

            Intrigued, I decided to check the Federal Register, as Congressman Wilson’s office had earlier recommended.

July 3, 2002

Here it is! The Shipyard rule Assistant Secretary Foulke mentioned at the hearing!…. or not. Actually, OSHA just wanted to correct “a number of minor typographical, grammatical and other errors” found in the original standard. Don’t worry, though, because “the technical amendments and corrections being published today are not substantive in nature.”

Anyone else think maybe this one shouldn’t count?

November 7, 2002

More revisions! OSHA took the time to “reorganize the text, remove inconsistencies among sections, and eliminate duplicative requirements.” They also added a table of contents “to make the standards easier to use.” And I almost forgot—they also renamed the standard “to better describe the contents.”

Impressive, but I’m not counting this one either.

June 30, 2003

On this date, OSHA deleted two provisions of reporting requirements put in place by the Clinton administration. These provisions had already been delayed twice by the Bush administration and were therefore never actually implemented anyway.

I’m crossing this one off the list.

February 17, 2004

OSHA decided to amend its Commercial Diving Operations (CDO) standards to allow “employers of recreational diving instructors and diving guides to comply with an alternative set of requirements” instead of those contained in CDO standards. They did this because the individuals affected “will receive a level of safety and health protection that is equivalent” to that received by those who will be following the current CDO standards.

All right then—so now recreational diving instructors and diving guides aren’t inconvenienced by decompression chambers they didn’t need. I suppose that’s reasonable, but how is this an important step for the protection of the American workforce?

January 5, 2005

OSHA said it was time to “remove and revise provisions of its standards that are outdated, duplicative, unnecessary, or inconsistent, or can be clarified or simplified by being written in plain language.” These changes include adding the phrase “electronic mail or any method that is equally fast” after “telegram, telephone” in the existing standard for reporting food poisoning at temporary labor camps. OK. That’s a good fix, but other revisions in this package were more troubling. Employers are no longer required to report to OSHA when accidents (e.g., spills) occur involving carcinogenic materials such as benzidine or 4,4 methyl-bis. The agency also deleted requirements in OSHA’s vinyl chloride, acrylonitrile and DBCP standards for more frequent monitoring of worker exposures.

It is preposterous for OSHA to claim that its actions on this date had anything to do with improving worker safety and health; to the contrary, their actions reduce employers’ responsibilities to protect workers.

May 12, 2005

OSHA officially approved the Oregon state plan.

Way to go, Oregon.

September 13, 2005

OSHA took action “to delete from OSHA standards three references to national consensus standards and two references to industry standards that are outdated” and to “clarify employer obligations under the applicable OSHA standards and reduce administrative burdens on employers and OSHA.”

Good to know they’re working on the important stuff.

January 18, 2006

OSHA revoked a provision of the Steel Erection standard which would have required the development and use of slip-resistant coatings on skeletal structural steel. Because no one had yet developed a method for testing the performance of these coatings, the agency decided to bag the whole idea of requiring them, in spite of the fact that there were companies who had developed coatings they thought would serve to prevent slips and falls.

So much for perseverance.

June 29, 2006

If you’re a private contractor working at a Department of Energy facility that is not subject to the Atomic Energy Act, whose regulatory standards do you follow, OSHA’s or DOE’s?

If you said OSHA, you’re right.

(OSHA just wanted to clarify– thanks for your attention, and have a nice afternoon.)

August 16, 2006

OSHA officially approved the New York state plan for public employees only.

Way to go, New York.

October 17, 2006

In September 2004, OSHA “promulgated a new fire protection rule for shipyard employment that incorporated by reference 19 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.” Because NFPA updated some of those since then, today, OSHA replaced the references with the new ones.

Again, not a big deal.


That’s 11 that are well, not anything to cheer about. Getting rid of typos, updating footnotes, getting rid of employer obligations, and giving states permission to run their own occupational safety & health programs which are just as protective– and in some cases more protective– than federal OSHA.

To be fair, OSHA did promulgate a standard for airborne exposures to hexavalent chromium. (It’s “economically feasible”, too— even though it happens to be five times higher than the level recommended by the scientific community.) But it’s still one standard, and it was completed pursuant to a court order.

I do appreciate the ability of OSHA to get anything done on Bush’s time—a time characterized by a relentless push for less government interference with market forces. Still, I can’t help but roll my eyes at Assistant Secretary Foulke’s inflated view of OSHA’s recent contributions to workplace safety and his deliberate recitation of impressive workplace injury and fatality statistics that only sound good because of watered-down reporting requirements.

I can’t help it because I know better.

Some advice for those congressmen and congresswomen who’ve been told that the Bush administration is doing all it can to protect American workers: look deeper. Ask tougher questions. Ask about the well-documented hazards that remain entirely unaddressed by OSHA regulations (e.g. diacetyl). Ask about the current standards and how they compare to standards enforced by state programs such as CalOSHA, whose carbon monoxide standard is twice as protective and whose percloroethylene (PERC) standard is four times more protective than federal OSHA’s. (See testimony of Frank Mirer here). Ask about how current standards compare to those of other federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, whose beryllium standard is 10 times more protective than OSHA’s.

When you do, I assure you, you will no longer buy into what Congressman Hare referred to as Foulke’s “rosy opinion of the job that OSHA’s been doing” over the last six and a half years.

Celeste Monforton contributed to this post.

3 thoughts on “22 OSHA standards?

  1. Wow. Great investigative work!

    What’s interesting to me is that in the President’s budget request for OSHA funding, the document states four standards promulgated in 2006, not the seven listed by OSHA’s press office. I guess when it’s something official like a budget request, the administration is forced to acknowledge that a few of these “standards” are inconsequential at best.

  2. I have a question – in his April 2007 NY TImes article, Labaton wrote that there has only been one OSHA regulation established during the Bush administration, and THAT was issued by a federal court. Anyone know which regulation that was?? Which court? THanks!

  3. Labaton was referring to the hexavalent chromium standard, which is regarded as the only significant worker protection standard to be promulgated during the Bush administration. That standard was only finalized because OSHA was ordered to do so by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit (Public Citizen v. Chao, 2002). (You can see the text of the decision here:

    Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.