A federal advisory committee is urging HHS Secretary Sebelius and Labor Secretary Solis to proceed expeditiously with new worker safety regulations. In letters sent recently to these Cabinet-level officials, the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, (NACOSH) the committee used phrases such as “deeply distressed,” and “concerned and disappointed,” to characterize the Obama Administration’s stalled efforts to advance new worker health and safety regulations.
NACOSH was established by Congress in 1970 as part of the law that created federal OSHA. The 12-person committee is comprised of respresentatives of management, labor, and health and safety professionals. Current members include executives from Johnson & Johnson, Navistar, and the National Safety Council, as well as the immediate past-president of the American Public Health Association, and a risk manager from the City of Palm Desert, California.
The Committee’s letter emerged from discussions at the group’s December 14-15 public meeting. It makes recommendations to the Secretaries on four specific topics, including respirable crystalline silica, a hazard associated with the progressive, fibrotic lung disease silicosis, as well as lung cancer, and autoimmune and kidney disorders. I’ve written previously about the need for improved protections for workers exposed to silica (here, here, here, here) and NACOSH doesn’t mince words to hold the Administration responsible for failing to act on this well-known hazard.
“The current standard is many decades old and is insufficient to protect workers from this serious occupational health hazard. NACOSH is deeply distressed that the proposed silica standard has now been held by OMB for review for more than 10 months, far longer than the 4.5 month review period provided for in Executive Order 12866. The silica rule delay is extraordinary and without explanation, and there is no indication as to when the review will be concluded. Further, it has been 14 years since OSHA initiated the silica rulemaking, and eight years since the small business panel completed its review of the draft silica rule…”
The Committee also chastises federal OSHA for “no apparent progress” on a draft proposed rule that would require employers to establish workplace injury and illness prevention programs. This proposal has been described by Labor Department leadership as one of its top priorities. When the item first appeared on the agency’s regulatory agenda in spring 2010, for example, OSHA’s assistant secretary noted that it was “in which we are moving aggressively forward on at this time.”
NACOSH disagrees that OSHA is working diligently on this proposed rule. They note that the agency failed to meet its June/July 2011 timeline for initiating a review of the draft proposed rule by a small business panel, and “that there has been no apparent progress on this rule.”
I’ll be eager to see how the Committee responds if no measurable progress is made by OSHA in the coming months on these issues.