I’ll be the first to admit I’ve criticized the Obama Administration’s OSHA for failing to issue or even propose many new worker safety and health standards. As I wrote earlier this month, under President Obama and Secretary Solis, OSHA has only issued three new worker safety rules, two of which were safety standards affecting discrete industries and the third, a rule broadly endorsed by big business. Some colleagues and commentators attribute this mediocre record to regulatory resistance in the White House, pressure from Republicans on Capitol Hill, too few staff in the OSHA standards office, and the agency’s shifting rulemaking priorities. Most recently, a popular excuse for the agency’s lackluster regulatory performance is this: OSHA’s regulatory activities always slow down during a Presidential election year.
I wondered if that was actually true.
The table below breaks down key rulemaking action by OSHA during the last seven Presidential election years. I reviewed the Federal Register dating back to 194, for the period January 1 through each’s respective November election day. I recorded all OSHA notices announcing a proposed rule, a final rule, an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking or a request for information on a potential proposed rule. (The list of actions by year is posted here.)
Using these measures, the most productive election years for OSHA regulatory action occurred during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations. In 1984 when Reagan was running for re-election, OSHA issued final rules on ethylene oxide, rim wheels and the state-based consultation program. The agency also proposed rules on asbestos, field sanitation in agriculture, grain handling, among others. At the end of Reagan’s second term, while G.H.W. Bush was running for President, OSHA finalized rules on excursion limits for asbestos, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite, mechanical power presses, concrete and masonry construction, among others. The agency also proposed rules on lockout/tagout, exposure limits for 375 air contaminants, concrete lift-slab construction, and generic standards for medical surveillance, and exposure monitoring.
In 1992 when G.H.W. Bush was seeking re-election, OSHA issued five final rules, including process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals (in February), occupational exposure to formaldehyde (in May), to 4,4 methylenedianeline (in August), and to cadmium (in September). In August of that year, OSHA also published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking entitled “Ergonomic Safety and Health Management.” When Clinton was seeking re-election in 1996, OSHA issued four final rules, including revisions to personal protective equipment requirements in shipyards (in May), safety standards for scaffolds used in construction (in August), and occupational exposure to 1,3 butadiene (on Election Day).
There are 70 days left until Election Day 2012. So far this year, President Obama’s OSHA has issued a final rule to harmonize its Hazard Communication rule with global standards, proposed a rule on cranes and derricks during demolition and underground construction, and published a request for information on hazards related to reinforced concrete and backing up vehicles. It’s not a record of action that conforms with OSHA’s performance during the seven previous Presidential election years, but comparable to its record during the George W. Bush Administration.
This little exercise and this little table don’t actually tell us whether OSHA rulemaking activities slow down during an election year. For that, I’d need to assemble the same information on regulatory activities in the year before an election and compare it to the figures in the table above. Maybe I’ll pull together that data next month. For now, we just know that the number of final and proposed rules issued by OSHA during Presidential Election years rapidly declined after 1996.
P.S. In late June, OSHA submitted for review a final rule addressing hazards related to Electric Power Transmission and Distribution in the construction industry to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. I’ll be happy to revise the chart above if it (or any other key regulatory activities) is published before November 6, 2012.
P.P.S. I made the correction to the table on September 12, 2012, and to the attachment provided in paragraph 3.