Disappointing summer for progress by OSHA on new worker safety regulations

Just before Memorial Day—the kickoff of the summer season—the Obama Administration released its agenda for upcoming regulatory action. In the worker safety world of OSHA, “regulatory action” rarely means a new regulation. Rather, it refers to a step along the long, drawn-out process to (maybe) a new rule to protect workers from occupational injuries, illnesses or deaths.

The items identified by the Labor Department suggested that OSHA planned a productive summer of 2014. Here’s what OSHA outlined for its summer tasks.

In May 2014:

Accomplished? NO

In June 2014:

  • Publish a request for information from stakeholders to address the hazards faced by those who work on communication towers, in particular the risk of working at heights.

Accomplished? NO

In July 2014:

  • Publish a proposed rule to protect workers who are exposed to beryllium, which can cause lung cancer and chronic beryllium disease.  More than two years ago, in February 2012, the world’s largest producer and supplier of beryllium AND the United Steelworkers handed OSHA the regulatory text of a proposed rule on beryllium. It was a document that the two key stakeholders had thoughtfully negotiated. They expected their effort would expedite OSHA’s work on a rule.

Accomplished? NO

In August 2014:

  • Publish a final rule to address confined space hazards for construction workers. In 1993, OSHA issued a confined space standard but it did not cover construction workers. The agency proposed a regulation in 2007 that would apply to the construction industry and the public comment stage of the rulemaking concluded in October 2008.

Accomplished? NO

  • Convene a meeting of small business representatives to review a draft proposed regulation to address the hazard of workers being struck when construction vehicles and other equipment are operating in reverse (backing up.)  OSHA notes that in 2011, 75 workers were fatally injured in backing incidents.

Accomplished? NO

  • Publish a proposed regulation that would clarify employers’ obligation under an existing regulation to make and maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Accomplished? NO

  • Publish a request for information from stakeholders to better protect shipyard workers from fall hazards and make existing regulations consistent with industry consensus standards.

Accomplished? NO

It’s hard for me to believe that OSHA was unable to accomplish a single one of these seven tasks. I have to wonder whether something else is going on.  For all I know, the agency has completed its work on some of them and tied them up with a nice red bow, but higher ups in the Obama Administration have put the brakes on them. It wouldn’t be the first time the Administration has shown its aversion to new OSHA regulations. In 2010, OSHA proposed a change to the form on which just a fraction of employers are required to record work-related injuries and illnesses. The only modification was that employers would have been required to place a check mark—-a check mark—in a column on the form to distinguish musculoskeletal disorders from other injuries, such as burns or amputations.  After completing the public comment period and extra stakeholder meetings, OSHA submitted the final rule for review to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). It sat there for six months and then the Administration forced OSHA to ditch withdraw the rule. Then there was OSHA’s proposed rule on silica which was “under review” at OIRA for 2 1/2 years.

Whatever is going on—whether performance problems at OSHA or anti-regulatory obstruction higher up in the Obama Administration—OSHA set expectations of what it would accomplish over the summer months. Now Labor Day is upon us and it was a disappointing summer for progress by OSHA on new worker safety regulations.