During the April 24, 2007 House Workforce Protection Subcommittee hearing, â”Have OSHA Standards Kept up with Workplace Hazards?”, the Bush administrationâs record in promulgating occupational safety and health standards was a hot topic. (âWith all of those [rules] that have been cast aside,â asked an indignant Congressman Hare (D-IL)â âwhatâs OSHA been doing?â)
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) stated: âTo date, the Bush administration has implemented 22 standards, with more than year left in the term,â and that therefore, âthe pace of regulatory rulemaking has not changedâ 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 Wilsonâs 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.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Intrigued, I decided to check the Federal Register, as Congressman Wilsonâs 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 âa number of minor typographical, grammatical and other errorsâ found in the original standard. Donât worry, though, because âthe technical amendments and corrections being published today are not substantive in nature.â
Anyone else think maybe this one shouldnât count?
November 7, 2002
More revisions! OSHA took the time to âreorganize the text, remove inconsistencies among sections, and eliminate duplicative requirements.â They also added a table of contents âto make the standards easier to use.â And I almost forgotâthey also renamed the standard âto better describe the contents.â
Impressive, but Iâm 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.
Iâm crossing this one off the list.
February 17, 2004
OSHA decided to amend its Commercial Diving Operations (CDO) standards to allow âemployers of recreational diving instructors and diving guides to comply with an alternative set of requirementsâ instead of those contained in CDO standards. They did this because the individuals affected âwill receive a level of safety and health protection that is equivalentâ to that received by those who will be following the current CDO standards.
All right thenâso now recreational diving instructors and diving guides arenât inconvenienced by decompression chambers they didnât need. I suppose thatâs reasonable, but how is this an important step for the protection of the American workforce?
January 5, 2005
OSHA said it was time to âremove 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.â These changes include adding the phrase âelectronic mail or any method that is equally fastâ after âtelegram, telephoneâ in the existing standard for reporting food poisoning at temporary labor camps. OK. Thatâs 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 OSHAâs 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 employersâ responsibilities to protect workers.
May 12, 2005
OSHA officially approved the Oregon state plan.
Way to go, Oregon.
September 13, 2005
OSHA took action âto delete from OSHA standards three references to national consensus standards and two references to industry standards that are outdatedâ and to âclarify employer obligations under the applicable OSHA standards and reduce administrative burdens on employers and OSHA.â
Good to know theyâre 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 youâre 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, OSHAâs or DOEâs?
If you said OSHA, youâre 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 âpromulgated a new fire protection rule for shipyard employment that incorporated by reference 19 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.â Because NFPA updated some of those since then, today, OSHA replaced the references with the new ones.
Again, not a big deal.
Thatâs 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. (Itâs âeconomically feasibleâ, tooâ even though it happens to be five times higher than the level recommended by the scientific community.) But itâs still one standard, and it was completed pursuant to a court order.
I do appreciate the ability of OSHA to get anything done on Bushâs timeâa time characterized by a relentless push for less government interference with market forces. Still, I canât help but roll my eyes at Assistant Secretary Foulkeâs inflated view of OSHAâs 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 canât help it because I know better.
Some advice for those congressmen and congresswomen whoâve 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 OSHAâs. (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 OSHAâs.
When you do, I assure you, you will no longer buy into what Congressman Hare referred to as Foulkeâs ârosy opinion of the job that OSHAâs been doingâ over the last six and a half years.
Celeste Monforton contributed to this post.