A puzzling OSHA regulatory agenda for last 6 months of Obama term

By | 2018-01-14T18:03:03+00:00 June 23rd, 2016|2 Comments

Priorities for a successor? That’s what I wondered when I reviewed the worker safety topics on the OSHA’s latest regulatory agenda which was issued last month. In addition to rulemaking projects already identified by the agency, I count five new topics listed on the agenda for possible future regulatory action. They involve the following topics about which OSHA would seek public comment via a “Request for information” or an “Advance notice of proposed rulemaking”:

  1. Protections for healthcare workers against violence on-the-job (here)
  2. A lower blood-lead level to trigger medical removal protection for lead-exposed workers (here)
  3. Hearing conservation for construction workers (here)
  4. Improved requirements for the selection and fit testing of hearing protectors (here)
  5. Protections for workers exposed to styrene (here)

The first question that popped into my mind was:

The Obama Administration is coming to a close. Are these the topics that OSHA chief David Michaels’ thinks should be a priority for his successor?

Then I asked myself:

Won’t it be awkward for the director of OSHA under President Hillary Clinton to remove these topics from the agenda?

And then I wondered:

Why is OSHA adding new topics to its agenda when it’s making limited progress on the items already on its regulatory plate?

The agency, for example, has delayed convening a small business review panel to examine a proposal on combustible dust since at least October 2013.

The same goes for needed improvements to OSHA’s process safety management standard. In June 2015 OSHA said it had initiated small business review panels to examine proposed changes. Just this week–one year later–were the meetings actually taking place.

There are plenty of other examples like these two.

I think the most important question that came to my mind was this:

Are these the topics of highest priority for workers? Given a chance would workers list these topics as greatest interest to them?

I suspect that many health care and retail workers would put workplace violence high on an OSHA regulatory to-do list. If OSHA is going to direct personnel and resources to this effort, wouldn’t it be better spent developing a proposal for the public to respond? Why waste time on simply a request for information?

Are construction workers rallying for a standard to address noise?  I don’t know, but I think, they might want to focus on something else, namely the roll-out and implementation of the new OSHA silica standard.

What about the regulatory agenda item on styrene?  It’s true that worker advocates have been urging OSHA to move more quickly to address chemical exposures. They did so again in response to the agency’s October 2014 “Request for information” on chemical management and permissible exposure limits. But the AFL-CIO said the agency needed to act. The worker organization gave OSHA some terrific recommendations provided on how to do so. But instead of taking action, OSHA indicates it will publish yet another “Request for information.” This one will specifically focus on styrene. I doubt that is what the AFL-CIO had in mind when it urged OSHA to act.

I know definitively of one group of workers who have an issue they want to see high on OSHA’s regulatory to-do list. In September 2013, several civil rights groups filed a petition with OSHA on behalf of poultry and meatpacking workers. They asked the agency to develop a standard to address the hazards in their workplaces that lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal disorders. OSHA denied their request saying:

“…limited resources do not allow for [the] comprehensive analysis and rulemaking effort.”

If so, why did OSHA add five new topics to its regulatory agenda?


About the Author:

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH
Celeste Monforton is a fellow in the Collegium Ramazzini; a lecturer at Texas State University; and professorial lecturer at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. She receives funding from the Public Welfare Foundation.


  1. See Noevo June 23, 2016 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I’m a little surprised that something like
    ‘Protecting workers from Climate Change’
    didn’t make the priority list.

  2. dean June 24, 2016 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Since you are a little surprised that gravity exists and the sun comes back each morning sn, your comment just cements your low intellect.

    Won’t it be awkward for the director of OSHA under President Hillary Clinton to remove these topics from the agenda?

    If this question is prompted by some reason other than the agency’s docket already being full, what would that be? I’d be more concerned about all worker safety research getting axed if the deranged republican candidate takes office.

    The question of why more items are added given the limited resources available now is good, but sadly it seems more likely to go unanswered than answered.

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