January 3, 2012 The Pump Handle 0Comment

While we’re on vacation, we’re re-posting content from earlier in the year. This post was originally published on May 26, 2011.

By Celeste Monforton

The White House’s regulatory czar Cass Sunstein announced today agency roadmaps for a 21-century regulatory system, and the results of the Obama Administration’s “unprecedented government-wide review” of existing regulations. I don’t know what history books Mr. Sunstein has been reading, but for at least the last 20 years, every Administration has engaged in these regulatory review exercises to identify rules that are “out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules.” It’s a real stretch for him to call this review “unprecedented.” I only quibble about that tidbit in order to temper my distaste for the rest of what Administration officials said today.

In their ongoing effort to pander to the business community, the regulatory czar offers an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dissing worker safety rules as examples of just such “regulatory burdens.” This is the second time in four months that Mr. Sunstein has used the WSJ platform to show his true colors about worker protections. As I wrote on February 8, when President Obama launched this initative, the reg czar boasted that the White House was already making great progress to eliminate allegedly onerous regulations. Two of the four examples he used involved initiatives to advance worker health and safety. I’ll repeat what I wrote then:

It’s a sad day when OSHA becomes the whipping boy for a Democratic Administration.

In today’s WSJ op-ed, read how the Obama’s reg czar characterizes one OSHA rule on the chopping block. Ditching this rule will elminate

“…1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers, saving tens of millions of dollars every year. Businesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms, giving their employees more time to be productive and do real work.” [emphasis added]

The Administration asserts that this OSHA rule also drained employee productivity. Now, without this requirement, workers can do real work.

I’m not going to get into the substance of that requirement (which has to do with keeping a record showing that employees received training on how to use properly use respirators) and whether or not it is wise to eliminate it. I am more concerned today about the dangerous and damaging rhetoric used by the Adminstration to describe these regulations. I expect this toxic language from the Chamber of Commerce and other powerful anti-regulatory forces. I don’t accept it from this Administration that promised to “protect public health, welfare, safety and our environment.” I’m getting awful tired of hearing one thing, but seeing the opposite.

This is the same White House that held hostage for six months a simple change to an OSHA form used by some employers to record occupational injuries. Eventually, OSHA decided to withdraw the proposal, hold another stakeholder meeting, and reopen the comment period on the rule until June 16. If a simple change to a one-page form takes more than a year to accomplish, Mr. Sunstein should keep his “21st-century regulatory system” to himself.

I just recently completed my work on the independent team investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. At that worksite, like many others across the country, workers and managers have grown up on the rhetoric about excessive government regulations, burdensome rules, and intrusive regulators. They hear it from politicians, pundits, trade associations and even their company leaders. At some point, the words are internalized into action. At the Upper Big Branch mine, key requirements for recording, ON PAPER, the identification of serious hazards, were disregarded. Some of the foreman, and up the chain-of-command, came to consider these vital safety activities: JUST PAPERWORK. It was utterly lost on them why these requirements were important, in fact, how the items they recorded, if acted upon, could be life-saving. Instead, these workers and foreman were following the script repeated today by the White House’s own Cass Sunstein:

“Businesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms, giving their employees more time to be productive and do real work.”

As if identifying hazards and writing them down ON PAPER, so they can be corrected, is not REAL WORK.

A 21st-century regulatory system would recognize the value of such records AND would engage workers and employers in developing new technologies so the data is recorded electronically without the need for PAPER or pencils.

A 21st-century regulatory system would permit a Senate-confirmed agency head to proceed with his or her rulemaking priorities—and live with the consequences of their success or failure—instead of one that causes months of delay with needless White House reviews. (A final rule on general working conditions in shipyards (e.g., housekeeping, illumination, sanitation, and first aid) was stalled in the White House’s reg czar’s office for six months (September 2010 until April 2011.))

A 21st-century regulatory system would streamline the process for promulgating rules on hazards that date back to the 20th century and are still harming workers: respirable crystalline silica and coal dust, noise, confined spaces, combustible dust, beryllium, metal working fluids….etc.

A 21st-century regulatory system would embrace the goal of ensuring workers are not abused by employers who may view safety protections as a threat to profit.

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