While some lawmakers in Washington are harping on OSHA for creating too many regulations, a recent report says during the last ten years, there have been fewer new regulations produced by the agency than in any other period in its history.
Public Citizen’s report, OSHA Inaction, says while OSHA was once able to develop a new rule in less than a year, now it takes more than six years, on average.
And it says eliminating those delays would have prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, more than 30,000 cases of occupational illness and hundreds of worker deaths.
The report points to five pending rules with delays ranging from 4 to 31 years:
- beryllium (almost 9 years)
- diacetyl (4 years)
- silica dust (8 years)
- confined spaces in construction (over 31 years), and
- walking and working surfaces (over 21 years).
In its early years during the Nixon administration, OSHA averaged 3.8 new regulations per year. That dropped to 0.3 new regulations during President George W. Bush’s administration, and stands at 0.7 during the Obama years.
Two specific examples show how the rulemaking process has changed from the 1970s until recently:
- In February 1974, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the deaths from a rare cancer of four tire plant employees who worked at the same B.F. Goodrich facility in Kentucky. The company’s medical staff identified vinyl chloride as the cause of the cancer. In nine months, OSHA had a new rule setting a permissible exposure limit for the substance. Manufacturers were able to comply because Goodrich developed a system to prevent worker exposure.
- In May 2002, the CDC reported on another cluster of eight worker deaths at a Missouri popcorn facility. They were exposed to diacetyl, a chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn. Today, there is still not an OSHA standard on diacetyl, despite more reports about serious lung damage and deaths among more workers who were exposed to the substance.
Public Citizen’s report also points out that there are already several review processes OSHA must use before enacting a new regulation:
- The Regulatory Flexibility Act, passed in 1980, requires OSHA to estimate compliance costs for each new rule, its effect on small businesses and the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses that would be prevented annually.
- The Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act, passed in 1997, requires OSHA to review pending regulations’ effects on small businesses.
And on top of these requirements, Congress can overturn any OSHA regulation, using the Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996. Congress used the CRA to overturn OSHA’s ergonomics standard in 2001.
Since 2001, OSHA has enacted only four new regulations: two during the Bush administration and two during the Obama years.
Public Citizen argues that the OSHA rulemaking process has become increasingly politicized in the last ten years. In its view, the agency was able to operate more independently before 2001.
The message in the report is clear: Public Citizen would like to see more OSHA regulations, reasoning that they would prevent more worker deaths, injuries and illnesses.
But on the other hand, pro-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say OSHA regulations are killing U.S. businesses, and thus, jobs.
Is the choice really between killing workers and killing jobs? Can you imagine enactment of a new OSHA rule, such as the one regulating vinyl chloride exposure, in a year or less? What would happen to the number of U.S. workers killed or injured each year if there weren’t as many OSHA regulations as we have today? Let us know what you think in the comments below.