May 13, 2009 Liz Borkowski, MPH 6Comment

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis signed off on her first semi-annual agenda of regulations, which was published in the Federal Register on Monday, May 11.  She writes:

“This document sets forth the Department’s semiannual agenda of regulations that have been selected for review or development during the coming year.  The Department’s agencies have carefully assessed their available resources and what they can accomplish in the next 12 months and have adjusted their agendas accordingly.”

I’ve griped before about not understanding the difference between the items listed on this “agenda” and the supplemental on-line “Agency Rule List” at  In Secretary Solis’ notice, she directs us to review another document:

“…the most important signficant regulatory actions and a Statement of Regulatory Priorities are included in The Regulatory Plan, which appears in both the online Unified Agenda and in part II of the Federal Register that includes the Unified Agenda.”

OK….I think.   So, I looked for this “part II” document and found it here.  It explains in eight pages the Unified Agenda and defines key terms and authorities related to it.  After reading this 8-page document, I think (but am not confident) that the difference between the items listed on the “agenda” and the items on the on-line “agency rule list” are that the former are expected to be completed in 12 months or less AND are estimated to have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities (or are scheduled for a Section 610 Review).

Of the two lists, the on-line “agency rule list” provides more substantive information and, I suppose, insight into the Labor Secretary’s vision for new worker health and safety regulations.  I’ll report the facts below and save my reaction to them for a future post.

On the OSHA side, here are some of the entries (with screenshots) and the expected key dates and actions :

On the MSHA side, here are some of the entries (with screenshots) and the expected key dates and actions :

You can check out all of the MSHA and OSHA listings here, as well as the notice that the now infamous “secret rule” on occupational health risk assessment is scheduled to be withdrawn from DOL’s agenda in June 2009.   It’s a little disconcerting that the abstract associated with this item is exactly the same as the one offered by the Bush Labor Department, and reiterated numerous times by former Asst. Secretary of Labor Leon Sequeira, including in correspondence to House Ed & Labor Chairman George Miller.  You’d think that Secretary Solis’ staff would have at least added a sentence to the end of the verbatim abstract, saying something like “based on overwhelming comments from the public, we’ve decided the previous proposals was anti-worker and anti-public health.” 

Sorry, I promised no commentary.  I’ll save that for another day.   What’s your reaction to Secretary Solis’ first regulatory agenda?

Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH is an assistant research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services.  This is the sixth time she’s written a blog post about these semi-annual reg agendas.

6 thoughts on “Solis’ Regulatory Plan for OSHA and MSHA

  1. It is a good start. The noise in construction is overdue. I see most older construction workers with hearing aids.

  2. Excellent overview of the OSHA Unified Agenda with the very helpful hyperlinks, which assist tremendously in understanding the rulemaking process.

    After reviewing OSHA’s Semiannual Regulatory Agenda – Spring 2009 from the website then comparing and contrasting the regulatory plan abstracts of Tree Care Operations with Combustible Dust a questions arises when mention of existing national consensus standard is present for tree-trimming work. Yet there is no mention of existing national concensus standards (NFPA Combustible Dust standards) for combustible dust.

    The eight pages of Part II “Introduction to the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” is a must read so as to better understand the other documents that are referenced in the very informative post.

    It’s very troubling reading the Combustible Dust rulemaking abstract that OSHA will be using information gathered from the Combustible Dust NEP as the agency considers future rulemaking. This document does not provide a clear picture of reality. Especially considering that over 50% of combustible dust related fires and explosions in 2008, though media accounts, occurred in national industires (NAICS), not referenced in this outdated NEP.

    Furthermore the 281 combustible dust incidents obtained from the CSB Dust Hazard Study does not address the thousands of incidents that have occurred over in the past three decades. A sound occupational safety policy in protecting the workplace can only be formulated when stakeholders fully understand the probability of occurrence in addition to the severity. The CSB study was a great start but much more needs to be done in evaluating the hazard appropriately.

    An OSHA comprehensive combustible dust standard is much needed but lets not all get all warm and fuzzy by a quick fix like what has previously occurred decades ago with the OSHA Grain Facility Standard in which there was over 50 combustible dust related fires and explosions in 2008. Not counting the rare Feb. 7, 2008 Imperial Sugar Refinery incident, there was more economic damage and workplace injuries in the grain facility sector in 2008 than in the manufacturing sector from combustible dust related fires and explosions.

    With such a complex subject as combustible dust spread across hundreds of national industries (NAICS), a negotiated rulemaking process like which occurred with cranes might be a viable option in addition to incorporating a hybrid process safety management venue into the rulemaking process.

  3. John,
    As I noted in my post, I’ve not yet digested everything on OSHA’s list, but I was a bit worried to see the plan for an “advanced” notice of rulemaking on combustible dust, rather than a proposed rule. In most cases, I’ve not been a fan of OSHA’s use of “requests for information” or “advanced notices” of rulemakings; I’ve not seen evidence that the data obtained through these pre-rulemaking steps outweigh the “cost” of delayed final regulation (that is, delayed protection for workers.)


  4. I’m worried that if workers rely solely on the OSHA Combustible Dust NEP as the foundation for a much needed OSHA standard that many layers of protection will be omitted.

    How many combustible dust related fires and explosions is acceptable as you mentioned in regards to cost? The grain facility sector had over 50 combustible dust incidents last year. Subsequently, the recent OSHA press release concerning the August Combustible Dust ANPRA mentions a grain facility incident in the same sentence as Imperial Sugar where three workers who were burned in April 2009 in Illinois.

  5. I am disappointed OSHA’s not doing anything about beryllium or silica– STILL! They’ve been putting those off forever. I need some reassurance this is a priority and not just another “goal” that will never be fulfilled.

  6. Chrissy,
    It seems like OSHA and CDC remains way behind voluntary industry efforts to protect people from respiratory diseases. It is hard to make sensible moves when the materials are natural elements and compounds, rather than something synthetic.
    It also doesn’t help when our only maneuvers seem to be to periodically reset exposure limits below detectable ranges.
    It may give the sideline observer the feeling that we are acting based on something other than science.

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